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$79m Bell Museum renovation to transform visitor experience

the bell museum

Minnesota’s Bell Museum, formerly known as the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History, will open following a vast $79.2million renovation.

The museum, based on the campus of the University of Minnesota, has been Minnesota’s official natural history museum since 1872. Its renovation involves a 30 per cent increase in size and it’s hoped its annual visitor intake will triple following its reopening in its new guise.

The museum has been closed for eighteen months for the total overhaul. Local architects Perkins+Will designed the new museum. Minneapolis-based contractors McGough were in charge of the construction.

“Museums used to put nature in a box but instead this museum immerses the visitor in nature,” says George Weiblen, the Bell Museum’s director. He claims the Bell will transform the way visitors experience museums.

Transforming the museum experience

The Bell Museum Planetarium

New facilities will include:

  • A state-of-the-art “seamless” dome planetarium. The first of its kind in North America, the Whitney and Elizabeth MacMillan Planetarium aims for a totally immersive visitor experience. Graphics range from the far reaches of the cosmos to the deep inner workings of the human brain.
  • A range of updated exhibit galleries. Dioramas will show a range of natural scenes – from mammoths and wolves through to polar bears.
  • The ‘Touch & See Lab’. This space teaches through a blend of observation and sensory engagement. A range of objects are included, as well as some small live animals.
  • The “Learning Landscape”. The second-floor green roof and observation deck will be available for the public. Meanwhile the ground floor has a range of sustainable landscaping including native plants, a geology exploration space and a solar station.


The museum is set to open July 13th. The grand opening weekend will feature hands-on science, art, planetarium previews and an after-hours party with live performance and DJs. Dark Matter, the Bell’s custom-made ice-cream, has been created by the University of Minnesota’s Food Science and Nutrition department.

Images: The Bell Museum

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