From Singapore to Salt Lake, cities around the world are upping the ante
- Last Updated: 4:23 AM, June 18, 2012
- Posted: 3:49 PM, June 11, 2012
You can learn a lot by hanging out on the beach for a day — for instance, who wore sunblock and who didn’t; what body types are right for skimpy bathing suits and which are not. But for a summer adventure that’ll really get the old brain cooking, check out these striking new cultural institutions that are the talk of the town, from Belfast to Bentonville, Arkansas.
#1 Crystal Bridges Museum Arkansas
New Yorkers and Walmart may have something of an oil and water relationship, but this striking museum that recently debuted in downtown Bentonville — the home of America’s most omnipresent big-box retailer — will win over even the most skeptical Manhattanite. Why? Founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Sam, the collection spans five centuries of American art, from the Colonial era to the present, with top artists like Gilbert Stuart, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol and Jenny Holzer represented. Thanks to its main sponsor (ask not who), admission is always free (crystalbridges.org).
#2 Barnes Foundation Philadelphia
Much of the furor has died down over the relocation of this famous collection from suburban Merion to Center City last month. Designed by New York architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, the new building stays true to Dr. Albert C. Barnes’ vision, with the artwork — per his stipulation — remaining as he’d arranged it 70-odd years ago. The difference is now you can actually see the Cezannes, Matisses and Monets, thanks to a modern design that takes advantage of natural and artificial light. (barnesfoundation.org).
#3 Gardens by the Bay Singapore
The first of the three gardens that make up this massive horticultural complex, which sprawls across nearly 250 acres along the city’s waterfront, as part of the giant Marina Bay development, makes its grand entry at the end of the month. While you’ll find all the requisite fauna and flora here, there are plenty of manmade flourishes, too. Like the giant “Supertrees” — 164-foot-tall steel frames with “branches” that support a vertical garden — and a 7-story-high walkway that provides visitors with outstanding aerial views of the gardens, which include the Heritage Gardens, with a variety of cultivated and native Asian plants, and the Flower Dome, a conservatory filled with species from Australia, South America and the Mediterranean (gardensbythebay.org.sg).
#4 Natural History Museum of Utah Salt Lake City
Utah is a hotbed for fossils, and this museum’s known for its collection of dinosaur specimens. As of last month, the old bones have a new home that’s equally impressive, a striking green building tucked away in the foothills of the Wasatch range. Inside, you’ll find the world’s only display of 14 horned-dinosaur skulls and the only nearly complete Gryposaurus monumentensis skeleton (he’s huge, at 33 feet long, with a massive, duck-billed head; fortunately for our ancestors, he ate only plants). And not only can you see mounted bones – and even walk atop a “found” skeleton — you can also observe paleontology in action, as scientists toil away with tiny instruments on real specimens behind the windowed Paleo Prep Lab. Other floors showcase the native Indian nations of the region, the geological and ecological diversity of the state and how the Great Salt Lake formed. Lest you think that sounds dry, there are plenty of interactive features — like the “smell” buttons throughout — plus live creepy-crawlies that kids will love. And on a beautiful day, the top-floor outdoor sky terrace, devoted to all things astronomical, has jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains and the city; on a clear day you can even catch a glimpse of the Great Salt Lake in the distance (nhmu.utah.edu).
#5 Chihuly Garden and Glass Seattle
Supremely prolific glass artist (and Washington native) Dale Chihuly now has a space big enough to showcase his enormous, colorful creations — at the foot of the city’s Space Needle. The eight galleries (plus a theater) in the Exhibition Hall trace his career, while the 43-foot-tall Glasshouse contains a 100-foot-long sculpture (his largest to date) of red, yellow and orange glass. Chihuly’s pieces truly thrive in the garden, where the vibrant-colored organic forms “sprout” among the real plantings (chihulygardenandglass.com).
#6 Titanic Belfast Visitor Experience Belfast
The RMS Titanic may have officially begun her fateful voyage from Southampton, England, but she was designed and built in Northern Ireland, at Belfast’s Harland & Wolff shipyards. And so, the decision was to set the $155 million Titanic “visitor experience” — not a museum, since it owns no actual artifacts — steps from the ship’s birthplace. Opened in March, the iconic structure — with a jutting, metal-clad exterior that references the hulls of Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic — is just as dramatic inside, with several areas cleverly referencing the story of the ocean liner. There are lots of high-tech multimedia installations throughout — and even an Epcot-like ride that takes you through the ship’s construction — but the highlight is the undersea “immersive” theater which lets you interact with footage from Robert Ballard’s exploration of the wreck (titanicbelfast.com).