Australia’s Outback is a forbidding land, and many of its dinosaur bones remain unexcavated. But in the early 2000s, a small family of cattle ranchers discovered a bone gold mine on their land. They set out to build a structure for their ongoing find — and their sheer enthusiasm convinced a group of architects and contractors to build the museum pro-bono.
Unlike lawyers and doctors, most architects don’t make enough to do entire projects gratis. But according to Cox Rayner Architects, the project was just too damn cool not to participate. “It is an amazing place,” they explain. “For 99 million years, largely intact dinosaur skeletons have lain undisturbed just under the surface of the areas flat alluvial plain… he collection to date is recognised as one of the most significant worldwide, let alone what will be uncovered over time.”
Working without a fee and with barely any cash, the design team came up with a palette of low-cost, local materials: Earthen walls, embedded with fossils and shells found on site. Sunscreens made from fabric and rusted iron plates, punched by hand with geologic patterns. A cooling tower made from perforated metal. Most of the spaces — except for the climate-controlled areas — are open to the air, ventilated naturally and cooled by the sun-shades. The contractors, designers, and the Elliots (parents with one son) built most of the structure themselves. The entire build only cost $1 million, remarkably — for perspective, a comparable museum in America might cost around $50 million.
Today, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum houses on-site finds and offers visitors the chance to participate in digs all over the area. It’s officially Australia’s largest collection, and one of the five most significant finds worldwide. And according to a few recent news reports, it’s inspiring an economic boom in an area plagued by dwindling ranching profits.