Designing a Museum in an Active Seismic Zone

  • Sarah B. George Director, Natural History Museum of Utah, University of Utah


Salt Lake City is one of the most seismically hazardous urban areas in the interior of the United States because of its location along the Wasatch Fault, at the eastern edge of the highly faulted Basin and Range province.  Living in an active fault zone requires significant thought about how to protect people and objects when designing a new structure.  The Natural History Museum of Utah’s new home, the Rio Tinto Center, was designed to fit into the hillside above the city, using a variety of engineering solutions such as soldier piles and shear walls to minimize the potential for collapse in a magnitude 7 or greater earthquake.  The architects also used the concept of seismic faulting as inspiration for the form and façade of this beautiful, award-winning building.
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Author Biography

Sarah B. George, Director, Natural History Museum of Utah, University of Utah
Sarah B. George, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Natural History Museum of Utah and Adjunct Professor of Biology at the University of Utah.  Working in museums since she was an undergraduate at the University of Puget Sound, she received her Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico as a field biologist, mammalogist, and evolutionary geneticist. After completing graduate school in 1984, she was Curator of Mammals at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, also holding adjunct faculty appointments in the biology departments at USC and UCLA.   Since moving to Utah in 1992, Sarah and her team of staff and board developed a $103M new building, exhibits, and landscape for the Natural History Museum of Utah—the Rio Tinto Center, which opened in 2011.  The new Museum is LEED©-Gold certified and has won more than 30 regional, national, and international awards for architecture, engineering, materials, construction safety, dark sky design, exhibitions, media, and public art.  The Museum provides science education outreach and small exhibits to rural communities statewide, serving almost 500,000 people annually both on and off-site.    The new Museum is home to more than 1.6 million objects; research and training programs for the University of Utah in paleontology, archaeology, botany, and zoology; innovative new exhibits and learning laboratories.  In partnership with six colleges at the University of Utah, the Museum is expanding its faculty in the areas of biodiversity, learning research, and data visualization in an initiative to promote better public understanding of the importance of biodiversity and the impacts of its loss.   In 2012, Sarah was awarded the Pathfinder Award by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, and in 2016, she received the Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology.  She serves on the boards of the Natural Science Collections Alliance and the Association of Science-Technology Centers.  Sarah and her husband, Rick Ford, Geosciences Department Chair at Weber State University, have one son.
How to Cite
GEORGE, Sarah B.. Designing a Museum in an Active Seismic Zone. Selected Proceedings of Advances in Conservation, [S.l.], nov. 2017. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 07 june 2023.