Franklin Institute Donor Recognition

Finalist 2017

Franklin is best-known for Philadelphia – science – and his famous electrical experiment of 1752. Kites, keys and lightning bolts were elements that immediately came to mind.

The hall selected for display of the donor recognition has high ceilings with ornamental plaster molding and looks out upon a grand marble staircase with decorative ironwork. Considering the formality of the space and the toolkit of elements, keys were selected as the asset that could be elevated to the appropriate level of sophistication, making a profound statement allowing them to be impactful and create a sense of place.

Rather than a system of graphic panels for installation on the walls, three open thresholds leading from the hall into the grand pendulum staircase allowed something sculptural, almost chandelier-like, to be suspended from each of the ceilings of the wide thresholds. From the hall, visitors could read the donor names and, when descending the staircase on the opposite side, they could see through the keys into the majestic Benjamin Franklin National Memorial. Long keys suspend on rods from the ceiling with each name standing on the stem of a key. Thoughtful planning during design development allowed cost-effectively fabrication of multiples of the circular “head” and skeleton “feet” that would attach securely to custom-length stems of each key. Additionally, the dimensional letters for donor names were cut as one unit with a solid bar beneath to ensure stability of the letters as they were fitted into the slot in each key’s stem. The donor’s name dictated the length of each key so that every key’s length was precisely suited to the name it would bear. The variety of lengths added to the artistic form of the installation.

Design Firms: 

Franklin Institute


The Franklin Institute

Project Area: 

500 sq ft

Open Date: 

May 2015

Photo Credits: 

Donna Claiborne, Jeanne Maier

Design Team: 

Jeanne Maier (project director, designer)


AGS (material investigation, prototyping, shop drawings, fabrication, installation) Erickson (general construction)

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