Early yesterday morning, 136,000 pounds of copper left Rio Tinto’s Kennecott refinery in Magna, Utah, on the first leg of a 2,900-mile heavy metal tour that will culminate a year from now at the site of the new Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City.
After having been extracted at Bingham Canyon Mine and processed at Kennecott, the new copper cathodes will travel across the country, stopping in Mesa, Arizona, and Buffalo, New York, for further processing into sheets. The finished copper will reach its final destination to become the shell of the new museum.
The entire project is being documented on the museum’s Web site, giving the public in Utah and beyond a rare opportunity to observe the copper’s journey, from blasted rock, through the fabrication process, to the construction of a brand new copper-sheathed museum complex that will be named the Utah Museum of Natural History at the Rio Tinto Center.
The copper is part of a $15 million donation by Rio Tinto, the parent company of Kennecott Utah Copper. “Kennecott’s support for the museum dates back 30 years,” noted museum director Sarah George. “Its financial donations for special events, exhibits, and educational programming have provided learning opportunities to tens of thousands of visitors annually.” The Utah State Legislature provided additional funding.
Copper was selected as the ideal material for the building’s façade because of its timelessness, durability, and strong local significance. The copper bands that will comprise the façade will be enriched with two types of copper-zinc alloy that will enhance the subtle variegation in the copper’s natural patina. Over time, the façade will go from being as bright as a penny to a dark brown, and finally, to a beautiful variegated verde finish.
“The copper façade roots the museum to the Utah landscape by virtue of both the material’s origin and its design expression as a natural form,” said John Branson, principal, GSBS Architects. “The copper will be integral to the museum’s unique identity and become a recognizable feature of one of the state’s most loved and admired institutions.”
The present Utah Museum of Natural History houses more than 1.5 million objects, providing unique natural history experiences to Utah residents through exhibits, special events, and programs, and a variety of outreach activities with communities and schools. The new facility will expand the museum’s services to include eight themed exhibitions, a children’s gallery, a large changing exhibits gallery, a cafe, and a museum store.
A press event was held at the Kennecott refinery to announce the new museum project and kick off the cross-country tour. Commemorative Heavy Metal Tour posters and earplugs were distributed to the crowds of copper fans and local media that came to witness the big send-off.
The public can follow the copper’s fabrication process over the next several months by: