Snøhetta reveals its El Paso Children’s Museum, inspired by geometric shapes

Bulking Up

Snøhetta reveals its El Paso Children’s Museum, inspired by geometric shapes

Two years after Snøhetta was officially chosen to design the El Paso Children’s Museum, the multinational firm has revealed a very different final vision for the forthcoming 70,000-square-foot Texan edutainment center.

In October 2018, Snøhetta’s proposal for the museum, a flat slab dusted with irregularly shaped windows, lifted into the sky on stilts to inspire a sense of wonder and ensure unobstructed interior and terrace views, was unanimously chosen after a round of public reviews and voting. At the time, the high-flying concept (complete with a rooftop jet) had beaten out two other big-name finalists, Koning Eizenberg Architecture and TEN Arquitectos.

Today, Snøhetta has revealed something closer to a final design (according to the museum, the building is supposed to open in 2022), and it appears the project has changed dramatically. What was once an unbroken horizontal massing has been replaced with a much heavier, solid building topped with an undulating, cloud-like roof profile. That metaphor extends across the entire upper facade, as the vertically oriented cladding and embedded lights lend a sense of motion (emulating rain) as well as a starry night sky. Multistory arched windows, arranged in an alternating upside-down-right-side-up pattern across all sides of the museum, offer glimpses into the playscapes within.

A split diagram of the El Paso Children’s Museum revealing the learning areas, classrooms, reading pods, and terraces
Programmatic diagram of the El Paso Children’s Museum. (Render by Moare/Courtesy of Snøhetta)

Instead of literally boosting the museum on stilts as originally planned, Snøhetta has chosen to support the opaque upper portion of the building with a double-height base wrapped in a glass curtain wall.

Inside that more public-facing ground level, visitors will find the museum’s free exhibitions, a cafe, the start of the “learning landscape,” and can peer up into a 60-foot-tall atrium, revealing the other paid installations.

Those include the “Anything’s Possible Climber,” a massive, multi-level play structure shaped like interconnected stars and planets, hanging climbing structure, classrooms, timber reading pods, and outdoor terraces, including the “Discovery Garden” on the eastern edge.

The exhibitions, keeping the border city’s bilingual population in mind, will present its text in both English and Spanish and gear content towards enriching the youngest members of intergenerational families with roots in El Paso and the neighboring city of Juarez, Mexico.

Apart from Snøhetta’s involvement (the firm will also handle the project’s landscaping, referring to native plants form the Chihuahuan desert), El Paso-based Exigo Architecture will serve as the architects of record. Creative designers Gyroscope will be responsible for the museum’s exhibitions and interactive playscapes, including the multi-story climbers.