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Ralph Appelbaum Associates designs UA Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum

Collection has a new modern home within the Historic Pima County Courthouse

Pima-Courthouse UAANGMM RAA

Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA), a multidisciplinary firm specialising in the planning and design of museums, exhibits, educational environments and visitor attractions, has worked on the design of a new gem and mineral museum that aims to become a must-see global destination.

For this project, RAA and the University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum (UAANGMM) worked in partnership with Pima County, project architects Poster Mirto McDonald, and fabricator Design and Production.



“At the University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum (UAANGMM), we’ve created a museum environment like no other to showcase gems and minerals,” says Eric Fritz, Director of the UA Alfie Norville Gem and Mineral Museum.

“The most iconic building in Southern Arizona is home to the collection many have come to love with expanded space to educate and inspire. What better place than Tucson, Arizona, home of the world’s largest gem, mineral and fossil showcase where dealers, collectors, scientists and enthusiasts from all over the world come together every year.”

Gem Gallery UAANGMM

“In our collaboration with Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA), we were able to create a narrative that takes visitors through a continuous story about minerals and gems. Starting with the minerals formed during the origin of the universe, focusing into Arizona and Mexico, then culminating with the creative expressions of gem artists and artisans.

“It’s an experience that has never been done before in a gem and mineral museum and it could not have been achieved without the storytelling expertise and guidance of RAA.”

A modern approach

The museum will have a soft opening in July, while a grand opening celebration is planned for 3 February 2022, to coincide with the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase – the world’s largest gem and mineral show.

Located in the iconic Historic Pima County Courthouse, it is home to more than 2,200 individual gem and mineral specimens. The building itself was built in 1929 and was designed by architect Roy Place in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The RAA-designed Southern Arizona Heritage and Visitors Center is also housed here.

Pima historic county courthouse

In contrast to the traditional black box gem and museum approach, the design features living, changing galleries with well-lit spaces. The lab-like showcase units have flexible shelf displays and lighting systems. This flexible solution from RAA means that each display case is updateable, adjustable and will be changeable over time.

Displays include exhibits of precious metals, including gold, silver and platinum, as well as copper, the metal that put Arizona on the map. UAANGMM is the first mineral museum to include a whole gallery exploring the scientific theory of Mineral Evolution.

The work of the University of Arizona will also be highlighted, showing projects that this world-class research institution has worked on with NASA. For instance, a recent asteroid study and sample-return Osiris Rex mission to carbon-rich, near-earth asteroid Bennu.

Engaging visitors through interactives

The UAANGMM will be home to several interactives, designed to inspire the next generation of gemologists and mineralogists. While inside the Treasury gallery, guests will feel like they are inside a gemstone themselves, as they discover examples of gem art and jewellery from the Somewhere in the Rainbow collection.

The museum also plans a future expansion, with the addition of a gem science and mineralogy research lab, where students will be able to get hands-on.

“This is an amazing collection, and we hope to give it an amazing home,” says Joaquin Ruiz Vice President of Global Environmental Futures, Executive Director UAANGMM, Director of Biosphere 2. “We think the Pima County Courthouse is that home. From there, it will better serve the public, the city, and the mineral-lovers who visit Tucson from around the world.”

Crystal lab RAA UAANGMM

“We aim to inspire the next generation to explore the wonders of the earth, emphasizing minerals, gems, and how man relates to them. Together with RAA, we have sought to achieve this through design with an emphasis on STEM education and the inclusion of interactives, we have created an interface which all visitors can engage with and explore these concepts,” adds Fritz.

The RAA Team says:

“The University of Arizona Gem and Mineral Museum was conceived to be experienced as part of a working laboratory of geological and historical exploration. Our aim was always to engage and promote the curiosity and excitement of visitors of all types, from seasoned professional geologists from around the world to Tucson’s next generation of mineral collectors.”

Earlier this year, RAA received a Gold Award in Interior Design from the Muse Design Awards, for its work at Lavazza in Factory 1895.

Images credit: Logan Havens

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charlotte coates

Charlotte Coates

Charlotte Coates is blooloop's editor. She is from Brighton, UK and previously worked as a librarian. She has a strong interest in arts, culture and information and graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in English Literature. Charlotte can usually be found either with her head in a book or planning her next travel adventure.

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