By Holly Haber
DALLAS -- The Perot Museum of Nature and Science opening downtown Dec. 1 is more than a high-tech educational center packed with stimulating exhibits that are also just plain fun.
It's arguably the greenest building in Texas. Design, construction, landscaping and systems to conserve water and energy were all devised with the goal of earning seals of approval from three green ratings systems -- LEED Gold, Green Globes and the Sustainable Sites Initiative. No other building in Texas is certified by two of these evaluations, much less three, according to museum officials. "Stewardship of our natural resources is one of the critical parts of our mission," notes Jennifer Scripps, Perot director of strategic initiatives. Thom Powell of Good Fulton and Ferrel served as the sustainability consultant. (Perot Museum of Nature and Science photo: Mark Knight)
Built upon a former brownfield, the facility's key green elements are: rainwater and run-off collection systems that amass all the water for irrigation and 74 percent for non-potable uses such as toilets and cooling towers; solar-powered hot water heating; a sloped plinth rooftop planted with native drought-resistant grasses; surrounding landscape of native trees and plants; and the use of repurposed, sustainable and local materials in construction.
Architect Thom Mayne and his company, Morphosis, won the design contract because of "his passion for creating a building that was a teaching institution and that was going to inspire minds and dreamers and innovators," Scripps said. For Mayne, the conservation of energy, water and other elements of LEEDS certification are "just mechanical." He is most proud of the way the building, essentially a cube, hovers over the landscape so that the two-story glass-walled lobby overlooks the gardens and cityscape around it. (Thom Mayne in Dallas in 2011 for Sustainable Showcase photo: Phillip Shinoda)
"We're looking at new models where a huge amount of the buildng is made out of a natural environment instead of a man-made environment, and for me that's much more interesting, especially for this project, which is about the education of the sciences and nature," Mayne told Green Source DFW. (
Discovering Life Hall Photo: Jason Janick
"[The building] should be highly didactic," he continued. "It should communicate new ideas of what archiecture can become as it looks at the natural model as something much more relevant than the Cartesian, the man-made model...This building is unusual in that the landscape and the building are inseparable."
Even its unusual skin -- randomly etched concrete that changes in appearance depending on the angle of the sun's rays and rainfall -- was inspired by nature. "The whole direction of the exterior came from geology and the grand canyon," explains Mayne.
Experienced Dallas landscape architect Coy Talley re-created five ecological regions of Texas on the museum's five-acre grounds and plinth rooftop: West Texas rock cap plant life; upper grassland; Blackland prairie grassland; east Texas forest and wetland. (Rendering: Talley Associates)
"The on-site parking lot resides at the project's lowest elevation, where the shielding influence of the site structures and the flow of storm water create a more humid environment conducive to supporting plant life whose roots can withstand long periods of inundation as well as drought," explains Talley Associates in a statement.
"This area is richly planted with species that are more typically found in the low-lying East Texas woodlands and wetlands. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the most elevated outdoor platform that offers visitors the most expansive views of downtown has...intense sun exposure and dessicating winds. West Texas desert 'rock cap' plant life and rock outcroppings are specified for this area."
The plaza water feature -- an abstracted stream runnel emptying to a lowland pond -- has a very narrow profile to minimize evaporative water loss, the company notes.
Wondering what Talley planted? Here's a complete list of Perot Museum landscape botanicals:
Cedar elm, Burr oak, Weeping willow, Chinqapin oak, Cedar elm, White oak, Pond cypress, Cottonwood, Eldarica pine, Desert willow, Bamboo, Cherry laurel,
Wood violet, Cowpen daisy, Mapleleaf viburnum, Coralberry, Autumn fern' Red yucca, Salvia, Gayfeather, Blackfoot daisy, Texas prickly pear cactus, Fragrant sumac, Yellow flag iris
Big bluestem, Liittle bluestem, Indian grass, Upland switch grass, Sideoats grama, Bushy bluestem, Horsetail reed, Inland seaoats, Umbrella plant, Grease grass, purple top, Blue grama, Buffalograss, Green sprangletop, Curly mesquite, Prairie wildrye, Texas cupgrass, Sand dropseed, Sand lovegrass, Cane bluestem, Weeping lovegrass, Gulf muhly grass, Bamboo muhly
Scarlet sage, Winecup, Butterfly weed, Pigeonberry, Lemon mint, Mealy blue sage, Spiderwort, Purple coneflower, Lanceleaf coreopsis, Golden-wave, Clasping coneflower, Cutleaf daisy, Drummond phlox, Black-eyed Susan
White fragrant water lily
Splendid feather moss, Pixie cups, Hookeria moss
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Holly Haber is a Dallas freelance writer who contributes business and lifestyle features to Women’s Wear Daily, Dallas Morning News and other publications. She has been concerned about the health of the planet and its inhabitants for decades. In fact, her first professional job was managing the Human Bean Organic Food Co-op in Baldwin, N.Y. , in 1982. Comments or suggestions? Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org