Griffith Observatory Exhibits

Jury Award

Since 1935, the Griffith Observatory has provided visitors a window to the cosmos, attracting 70 million stargazers to the graceful landmark perched atop Mt. Hollywood. When it reopened in November 2006 after a $93 million renovation and expansion, it was twice its original size and included not only a new start-of-the-art planetarium, café, bookstore, and theater, but 20,000 square feet of exhibit space designed to turn earthbound visitors into observers of the universe.

C&G Partners was responsible for concept design and development for the visitor experience, encompassing about 60 new exhibits as well as graphic design in the architecture and landscape. A six-year collaboration with the Observatory and project architects Pfeiffer Partners maximized integration between architecture and graphics. C&G Partners based all its design work on three overlapping goals: promote observation as the Observatory's core mission; make astronomy interesting to visitors; and illuminate the rich astronomical heritage of the region.

To meet those goals, the team designed a series of "grand visual gestures" and interactive media that provide visual punch and engage visitors without asking them to read wordy text panels. A scale model of the solar system fills the upper reaches of the cavernous "Depths of Space" exhibit hall, hung as if the adjacent circular theater was the sun. A 150-ft.-long porcelain enamel mural called "The Big Picture" reproduces the largest space photograph ever taken, encompassing 1.7 million stars and galaxies. Across from the mural, a life-size bronze statue of Albert Einstein shows him holding up his arm, index finger and thumb raised to illustrate that the mural represents about 1 inch, or 1/1000th of the visible sky.

Large-scale photography and ambient video surfaces appear in unusual places, at uncommon angles, to reinforce the message of observation. An overscaled periodic table of the elements illustrates how most elements originate in space. The dramatic "Hall of the Eye" is dedicated to the history of astronomy and astronomical instruments, illustrating how mankind has and continues to benefit from looking to the stars.

Jury Comments: 

"Astronomical scale meets humanistic observation. The complexity of the visitor center could have easily been overwhelmed by the scale of the undertaking or lost in technological media. Where the project succeeds is in the orchestration of all the components of exhibitry, multimedia, and environmental graphics. The porcelain enamel star mural is a dramatic backdrop to large-scale planetary replicas. Typographical narrative marries with scientific symbol, and large-format muralistic photography pairs with plasma-screen presentation. An overhead data projection screen floats above a life-sized bronze sculpture of Albert Einstein."

"What is less evident to the average visitor is the collaboration between exhibit designers and lighting designers, audio/visual consultants, structural engineers, and scientific curators. Faux planets hang above real asteroids, and replications mate with real artifacts. What could have been overtly dark and dominated by blackness is successfully lit and colorful. Historical diagrams and magical imagery of the present day are tied together with approachable type diagram and layout. Griffith has created a successful immersive environment engaging visitors in an inspiring subject—turning earthbound visitors into observers of the universe."

Design Firm: 

C&G Partners

Client: 

City of Los Angeles, Dep't. of Recreation and Parks Griffith Observatory/Friends of the Observatory

Location City: 

Los Angeles, California

Project Area: 

20,000 sq. ft.

Open Date: 

2006

Project Budget: 

N/A

Photo Credits: 

Justin Donais

Design Team: 

Jonathan Alger (partner in charge); Keith Helmetag (consulting partner); T. Kevin Sayama (project manager/senior designer); Bettina Berg (art director); Amy Siegel (signage design); Robert Callahan Jr., Masahiro Ogyu, Leonard Marsh, Brook Anderson, Fabio Gherardi, Anna Corpron (exhibit design team); Justine Gaxotte, Sam Shenova, Leah Ho, Sarah Pokora, Danielle Young, Scott Finkelstein, Lisa Giordano (graphic design team); Sarah Webb, Paisley Gregg, Pamela Jacobson, Matthew Thompson, Laura Zelasnic (content development team) (Note: The project was initiated by this design team at Chermayeff & Geismar, and completed by this team at C&G Partners.)

Consultants: 

Pfeiffer Partners, Levin & Associates (architects); S.J. Amoroso Construction Company (construction); RBH Multimedia (audio/visual), Technical Artistry (lighting), Severud Associates (structural), Tom Gille (costing), Carpenter Norris Consulting (Gottlieb Transit Corridor instruments)

Fabricators: 

Maltbie Inc. (prime exhibit fabricator), Winsor Fireform (Big Picture), Mad Systems (audio/visual integration, dynamic models), RBH Multimedia (audio/visual production), Livers Bronze (bronze metalwork), Infinite CSI (Lambda graphic outputs), Z-Manufacturing (miscellaneous metalwork), Philadelphia Art Glass (Milky Way model), Universal Service Associates (large planet models), Studio EIS (Einstein bronze statue), Don Dixon (original planetscape artwork), OmniCosm Studios LLC (original planetscape artwork), Robert Kline (model making, artifact acquisition), Harris and Associates (exhibit fabrication oversight)

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