Page D1.1 . 06 December 2000                     
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    Dreaming on the River

    by Ganesh Nayak

    When architect Moshe Safdie, known for his urban sensibilities, approached the design of a science museum on the flat American prairie, he developed a geometric complexity as challenging as the exhibits within.

    Exploration Place, which Safdie designed with architect-of-record Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey, combines a science center and children's museum. Located on the Arkansas River across from the western edge of downtown Wichita, Kansas, it comprises a string of volumes along the river's bend almost at its confluence with the Little Arkansas River.

    Moshe Safdie conceived the facility from the beginning as an island on the river; it is built as two components, the so-called "land" and "island" buildings. The island building is not really on an island. A pond formed by weirs, which hold back high water and divert the flood-prone river around the island building, separates it from the land building.

    The island building mines some archeological memory of the site: the island that was formed used to be the site of Ackerman Island on which an amusement park was located in the 1930s.

    Safdie's characteristic urban approach to design is evident here. The modest program is diffused over about 100,000 square feet (9290 square meters) into discrete volumes on the island building, and a single volume in the vaulted land building.

    All public spaces are on one level. The land building on the re-routed MacLean drive contains the simulation theater, cyberdome, galleries, administrative spaces, cafe, gift shop, and service areas. The exhibits on flight, health and human life, people, and the places and environments of Kansas are contained in the island building.



    ArchWeek Photo

    The drama of the idiosyncratic forms, against changing hues in the late light, reflect in the river.
    Photo: Timothy Hursley

    ArchWeek Photo

    Bird's eye view of Exploration Place across the river from downtown Wichita, Kansas.
    Photo: Timothy Hursley


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