If you live in Denver, it’s hard not to feel inspired by the dramatic natural backdrop (Rocky Mountain High, anyone?). But the Denver Botanic Gardens, which opened its new Science Pyramid last fall, wants to make sure visitors not only appreciate the wonders of nature around them, but understand they are an important part of it, interconnected and invested.
Learning to See, the new permanent exhibit within the Science Pyramid, uses digital and physical interactive experiences to heighten visitors’ awareness of their role in nature and of the Gardens’ important scientific research and conservation initiatives.
Second Story, part of SapientNitro, created Learning to See to share stories of plants, ecosystems, and science through digital and physical interactives, large-scale graphics, and a lighting environment that responds to the local weather.
The narrative of the exhibit asks visitors to shift their perspective from viewing the natural world as a beautiful backdrop to recognizing their own interconnectedness with the plant life around them. The experience begins by building a foundational understanding of Colorado ecosystems, then exploring stories of the nearby steppe environment and the research being carried out at the Gardens. It culminates with a look at the opportunities for visitors themselves to become involved in conservation through citizen science. All exhibit content is bilingual, presented in English and Spanish.
Conceptually, Learning to See finds inspiration in the geography, landscapes, and plants of Colorado and its physical forms reflect those elements. Tall, slim pylons housing the interactives collectively recall an aspen glade, and contrast of scale is used to mimic the state’s dramatic elevation differences.
By engaging the visitor’s body in diverse and memorable ways, the interactive installations make the experience immersive. The dramatic centerpiece of the exhibit is a topographic table made from layers of laser-etched acrylic. Integrated touchscreens let visitors explore images and information about Colorado’s major ecosystems and activate LEDs in the table that indicate where those ecosystems exist. The tall, slim interactive pylons throughout the space provide unique sensory experiences. Visitors peer into peepholes to watch short videos about citizen science and wildlife in Colorado. Mimicking scientists at a microscope, they turn a bronze dial to zoom in on stories of the hidden biodiversity in the steppe’s rolling grasslands. They use their bodies as amplifiers to listen to the sounds of the steppe environment, from rolling thunder to prairie chicken songs. The exhibit’s digital components are supported by a custom content management system that allows the Gardens to update them as their research evolves.
Three interactive tables, boulder-like in form, provide grounding information throughout the visitor’s journey and are surrounded by the tree-like interactive pylons. Activated surfaces throughout the space, as well as the interactive software itself, respond to the temperature and wind speed in the Gardens through color and animation—using technology as a bridge between the Pyramid’s interior and the natural world just outside.
LEARNING TO SEE at the DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS
Client: Denver Botanic Gardens
Design: Second Story, part of SapientNitro
Fabrication: Ghilarducci Studios, David Bertman Designs
Photos: Second Story
>>Learning to See was a 2015 SEGD Global Design Awards winner. See this project and other projects in your areas of interest in the SEGD Global Design Awards archive!
>>Find more great content in SEGD's Exploring Experiential Graphic Design index!