Snøhetta designs El Paso Children’s Museum for families at US-Mexico border

Snøhetta has designed a children’s museum as a civic classroom that connects people through free movement of ideas at the cultural crossroads of USA and Mexico.

by STIRworld Published on : Oct 08, 2020

Emulating a cloud floating above the desert terrain of Texas in the US, the upcoming El Paso Children’s Museum (EPCM) designed by Snøhetta brings value to the region's families in the heart of the city. Upon winning the competition for the EPCM, Snøhetta has collaborated with El Paso architects Exigo and Gyroscope to collectively design the interior spaces and exhibitions along with the body of the structure. The lofty museum complements the nearby children’s museum in the city of Juarez, with a new playful experience for visitors to enjoy.

Surrounded by El Paso’s Downtown Arts District, the vibrant San Jacinto plaza and a major US-Mexico border-crossing station El Paso del Norte, the 70,000 square-foot museum’s unique geometries are distinctive among the city’s skyline. A rippling succession of barrel vaults reaches above to a cloud-like crown and is supported by a rectilinear glass base, the public frontage inviting passersby into the lobby.

The public lobby opens up to a 60-foot atrium displaying a spectacular climbing structure that traverses from the second to the fourth floor. The first floor is a warm, open space occupied by free exhibitions, a café, and the entrance to the learning landscape. Pathways support multiple forms of access and varying mobility needs, ensuring that the museum is accessible by all. Windows and lookout points enable visitors to gaze at the Franklin Mountains to the northeast and the Sierra de Juarez Mountains to the southwest.

The building’s glass base invites the public into the museum |  El Paso Children’s Museum by Snøhetta | STIRworld
The building’s glass base invites the public into the museum Image: Render by Moare, Courtesy of Snøhetta

Gyroscope designed the museum’s many hands-on exhibitions and the vertical climber, instilling a sense of peacefulness in the imaginative learning space. The EPCM included an exhibit, which interacts with the nearby Museo La Rodadora, an interactive children’s museum in Juarez, Mexico.

The Children’s Museum is an important addition to the city, located at a position of both geographic and historic crossroads. Together with the Mexican city of Juarez, the two cities constitute a borderplex with over 2.7 million people for whom crossing the US-Mexico border is a daily event. The northern edge of the site catches glimpses of the Union Pacific Railroad, one of two major transcontinental freight lines in the western United States.

A section through El Paso Children’s Museum | El Paso Children’s Museum | Snøhetta | STIRworld
A section through El Paso Children’s Museum Image: Render by Moare, Courtesy of Snøhetta

The design provides spacious outdoor public amenities such as streetscapes, gathering areas, and gardens, taking the Chihuahuan desert’s hot climate and botanical landscape into consideration. At the eastern end of the building, a series of distinct terraced discovery gardens create a vibrant atmosphere. Local plants and natural boulders within the shady groves of trees and the cooling mist playground complement the colours and texture of the encompassing desert and offer refuge from the scorching heat.

Geared towards catering to the needs of the region’s intergenerational families, the museum holds accessibility and bilingualism as its core values, intending to become a civic classroom and energy point. Snøhetta’s design examines how the museum itself can become a learning tool, maximising on open-ended and exploratory play. The spaces and exhibitions are designed to inspire both children and adults alike, promoting open-source education within the unique culture and geography of El Paso.

The unveiling of the design marks the latest milestone for the city’s first purpose-built children’s museum. The museum is slated for public opening to the people of El Paso in 2022.

(Text by Ankitha Gattupalli, intern at stirworld.com)

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