Science Storms
Science Storms
Science Storms
Science Storms
Science Storms
Science Storms
Science Storms

Science Storms

Evidence Design, Brooklyn, Chicago, Illinois, 2010

Description

Project brief: In 2003, the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago asked our firm to re-envision its existing presentation of physics and chemistry to achieve the Museum’s core mission: inspire and motivate children to achieve their full potential in science, technology and engineering. It was not sufficient to simply update MSI’s presentation of basic science; the new Museum experience had to inspire young visitors and engage the public intellectually and emotionally.

Our challenge was to transform the heart of the Museum into a wondrous exhibit that was awesome and accessible, surprising but empowering, inspiring a new generation to embark on the adventure of science.

The future exhibit was to be located in West Court—an enormous 200-feet-long by 100-feet-wide by 65-feet-tall gallery that was vast and flexible but also presented considerable lighting, acoustic, and visitor-orientation issues. The space invited a grand, state-of-the-art exhibit, but would require a carefully integrated environmental-graphics and interpretive program to support a cohesive, synthesized and accessible experience.

Approach: Our team began the conceptual phases by facilitating a series of conferences with prominent civic, philanthropic, museum and science-education professionals to explore new ways to communicate “essential science” to the public and describe a compelling visitor experience. Born out of these lively debates, we developed the compelling concept “Science Storms,” which leverages the drama and fascination of the forces of nature as platforms for exploring basic scientific principles.

In the ensuing six years, our firm nurtured a deep partnership with MSI to achieve this ambitious program while leading a vast array of technical and creative consultants, producers, artists and fabricators from concept design through design development and installation.

The result is a 26,000-square-foot exhibition where visitors interact with dynamic, large-scale experiments to explore nature’s most powerful phenomena—tornadoes, lightning, fire, tsunamis, sunlight, avalanches and atoms in motion—and then, through hands-on experimentation and interactive media, investigate the science behind nature’s forces.

The gallery is an ethereal expanse, a futuristic laboratory whose elegant design is carried through every detail. Signature experiment-exhibits anchor the exhibition; massive vertical columns are leveraged for environmental signage; illuminated glass, translucent CorianÆ and stainless steel combine to deliver interpretive information and instructions; monumentally sized media, exhibit consoles, lighting and interactive digital media unite to create a synthesized, kinetic landscape.

Effectiveness: The impetus for “Science Storms” came from the Museum’s core mission: to inspire and motivate our children to achieve their full potential in the fields of science, technology, medicine and engineering. It was not enough for the exhibit to merely update the Museum’s presentation of basic physics and chemistry; the exhibit had to inspire people. It had to draw visitors into a story and empower them to see themselves as part of the scientific endeavor. “Science Storms” needed to engage the visitor on both an intellectual and emotional level. No small feat, given that physics and chemistry are typically a turnoff for many people. From its opening in March 2010, “Science Storms” has become a must-see destination for the greater Chicago community as well as for tourists. Visitors of all ages spend hours actively engaged with the exhibits, observing the beauty and power of the phenomena, or engaged in the stories of contemporary scientists that unfold on the large-scale projections. Primary-, secondary- and higher-education institutions use the exhibits in “Science Storms” as teaching tools; an MSI-Illinois Institute of Technology partnership leverages the exhibition in its master’s program in science education. Overall visitation to the Museum has increased, exposing more of the public to a wide array of important, relevant subjects that will inspire the scientists and engineers of the future. “Science Storms” is an unprecedented success for the Museum both in terms of increased attendance as well as overwhelmingly positive feedback from visitors. In the year “Science Storms” opened, the museum had great attendance (1.5 million), despite no blockbuster temporary exhibit (we had 1.6 million the year before thanks to Harry Potter). This $23 million exhibit opened on time and came in on budget.

Targeted local and national pitching resulted in more than 700 media hits in the first year, reaching an audience of more than 275 million. Media highlights included: Good Morning America live from the exhibit with on-air personality Sam Champion; segment with Ellen DeGeneres in the exhibit for her Somewhat Special Special; feature on The Weather Channel’s Weather Center; inclusion in a USA Today “LIFE” story on “Hot exhibits mak[ing] science accessible, and lots of fun”; front-page coverage in the Chicago Tribune, as well as a two-page story in the Tribune’s play section; two stories in the Chicago Sun-Times; positive review in Science magazine; Time Out Chicago named it one of the year’s “best” on their Best of 2010 list.

According to a survey conducted in April 2010, 70 percent of all MSI guests were aware of “Science Storms” prior to their visit and almost half (48 percent) citied it as a reason they came. Additional stats for the “Science Storms” exhibit website (March 2010–July 2011): 180,000 visitors with 3 million page views. Overall MSI site (March 2010–July 2011): 6.4 million visitors, 24 million page views. “Science Storms” exhibit videos on YouTube: 8,750 views. “Science Storms” commercial on YouTube: 3,250 views. Facebook (March 2010–July 2011): 7.3 million post views (not all for “Science Storms”).

By its very nature, renovating these two galleries that total more than 25,000-square-feet is more “green” than building a new wing onto the Museum. By adapting these spaces we cut down on the energy, waste and transportation that would have been utilized in new construction. In addition, 39.75 tons of the structural steel required for this project (53 tons in total) is from recycled material, and LED lighting was used extensively for both ambient and interactive display-panel lighting. To ease the humidity load on the air-conditioning system that is created by several of the exhibit components, a desiccant system was installed that removes 100 percent of the additional moisture from the re-circulated air before it is reintroduced into the exhibit space. The exhibit is permanent with a life expectancy of 15–20 years. Robust construction and longevity are inherently more sustainable than short-term temporary exhibitions. Many of the finishing materials are also “green,” including low VOC paints and carpeting with 100-percent recycled backer and yarn.

Inspiring youth toward careers in science and engineering has the potential to bring fresh talent toward solving environmental challenges in the future.

“Science Storms” has won dozens of awards, leading to a lot of visibility within the museum market. Its success has spawned an alternate revenue business for MSI, which licenses and duplicates exhibit material for other museums and non-museum clients. We get daily requests from artists, museums and foreign entities who want the secrets of “Science Storms.”

Directly pragmatic and provocatively mysterious, “Science Storms” is born out of nature itself and the innate human desire to reveal its secrets. The majority of the exhibits are newly conceived, highly complex demonstrations of phenomena that function as exciting interactive experiments. To tie all the pieces together into an inspiring and empowering exhibition, the environmental design, media and interpretive system must work as one choreographed experience. “Science Storms” successfully synthesizes an integrated and sophisticated design program with dynamic interactive exhibits, strong contextual storytelling, and compelling environmental media to set a new paradigm for what science museums can achieve.

Collections: AIGA 365: Design Effectiveness (2011)
Discipline: Environmental graphic design
Format: Exhibit
Loading...
Loading...