Since it opened in 1999, Our Dynamic Earth has established itself as one of Edinburgh's leading visitor attractions. You could call it a science centre, but that's not quite right: rather it is a series of exhibitions and experiences that take visitors on a journey that tells the story of the planet we live on, from the very earliest times.
The images on this page give glimpses of some of what you see on your journey through Our Dynamic Earth, but it is worth remembering that most of the experience comes from being immersed completely within the different stages of the journey: viewing the amazing graphics, listening to the all-enveloping sound or even feeling the Earth move under your feet. In other words, Our Dynamic Earth can only really be appreciated by being there.
The journey starts before you reach the main building itself. Earthscape Scotland is a series of exhibits comprising many of the different rocks on which Scotland is built lined alongside the approach ramp, plus, in the centre of the amphitheatre in front of the building, the chance to experience a journey to the centre of the earth. The reception and ticket area lies within the upper part of Our Dynamic Earth, and from here you proceed to the start of the main part of the journey. State of the Earth gives an overview of the planet we live on as it is today. Here you can watch the Atlantic grow steadily wider day by day, or monitor the growth of the Earth's population. Here, too, you meet the first of the human guides who lead you through much of the exhibition and who seem to be recruited for their friendly humour and ability to inform.
Every three minutes, groups form up to undertake the next part of the journey, in a Time Machine that takes you back in time 15,000 million years: in reality a large lift whose scarcely perceptible descent helps divorce you from the day to day reality of time and place with which you entered Our Dynamic Earth.
Exiting the time machine brings your group onto the bridge of a spaceship for How It All Started, a view of the Big Bang at the start of time and space, that moves on to show the galaxies come together and finally the formation of our earth itself, though with continents far removed from those we know today. The next segment is Restless Earth during which you view, hear, and feel the process that literally shaped our planet during its early life. You'll never be closer to an active volcano - not safely, anyway! Next comes Shaping the Surface, the section in which you see the effects of the glaciers on the land, displayed on huge screens. This concludes with a high speed low level flight over a glacier in Norway that is one of the highlights of the visit.
Having moved through a series of distinct AV experiences as a group, you revert to individual exploration of the next few sections at your own pace. Casualties and Survivors examines why some species died out and others did not, and takes a look at what the world might be like had dinosaurs not met with mass extinction. Here, too, you can meet one of the undoubted starts of the show, a life-size sabre-toothed tiger leaping for its prey. Here, too, you can meet one of our early ancestors, who might well have sometimes been its prey. The section on Oceans comes next, first looking at the effects of wind and waves; then at life beneath the surface.
Polar Extremes begins with a journey into the frozen wastes, complete with the Aurora Borealis and a real iceberg. A Journey of Contrasts then leads you through tundra, temperate forest, urban landscapes, grasslands and deserts. Each is illustrated on one of a series of huge video screens. The section exploring The Tropical Rainforest has you experiencing the sights and sounds of the rainforest as a tropical storm approaches.
The final section, The Futuredome, is a little different from what has gone before. Here groups of visitors are able to make real decisions about the issues presented by moving projection on a 360 degree dome. Outcomes are driven by the decisions made by visitors and there is no guarantee that all the futures which emerge are happy ones!
The story behind Our Dynamic Earth is in many ways as impressive as the story told within it. Its origins date back to the early 1990s when, surprising as it might seem today, this end of Edinburgh's Old Town suffered from extensive dereliction and and high levels of unemployment. One very large site had been home to a brewery, and its closure left a void it seemed impossible to fill. Our Dynamic Earth was built on part of the old brewery site gifted to the project. Building costs were £39 million, much of it coming from the Millennium Commission. As an aside, a second part of the old brewery site is now home to The Scotsman newspaper, and the third has since been developed as a home to the new Scottish Parliament building which opened its doors in Autumn 2004. This part of Edinburgh is now thriving and it is arguable that the opening of Our Dynamic Earth in 1999 was the spark that ignited the area's regeneration.
Standing as it does in the shadow of Salisbury Crags, which many regard as the cradle of modern geology, this is an ideal location for a visitor attraction devoted to the forces that created and shaped the world we live on.
The building itself, designed by Michael Hopkins and Partners, is unique, bordering on iconic. There are three elements to it. The first is the white fabric roof, strung from stainless steel poles. This is what stands out in distant views of Our Dynamic Earth: and for many, it is all they really notice about the building. Beneath the fabric structure is a two storey stone building, which is home to offices, workshops, and the exhibition spaces through which the visitors pass. And the third part of the building is the amphitheatre formed by its front, northern face, and by the sweeping access ramps.