Bloodsuckers: Legends to Leeches

Creativity was essential in crafting awe-inspiring exhibitry on objects that could sit in the palm of your hand. Not to mention making it as appealing as possible to all, including the many people who are squeamish about blood. While specimens, artifacts and live bloodfeeders combine to give the exhibition authenticity, the main thrust of the design is imaginative, immersive and multi-sensory.


Royal Ontario Museum

Practice Area


Royal Ontario Museum


The Challenge

The split focus on the science and culture of bloodfeeding provided a design challenge in that a clean, modern look was desired for the science-centered spaces, whereas the cultural rooms called out for a historic, atmospheric tone. Creativity was essential in crafting awe-inspiring exhibition from objects that could sit in the palm of your hand.

The architecture of the exhibition hall presented its own set of challenges: walls and pillars that are never plumb, quirky divisions of space, and a difficult existing palette: almond- coloured floors and a white ceiling.

Project Vision

We sought to target Families and Experience Seekers, while not alienating Traditional Adult visitors. Knowing that some visitors would be uncomfortable with the content and squeamish about blood and bloodfeeders, we set out to provide encouragement through conversational language, fun science, and a carefully manipulated experience to help balance that feeling.

Oversized models of mosquito, leech and blackfly generate wonder about these intricate, small creatures. Long, multi-layered consoles and large-scale graphics introduce the palette and tone.

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The Diversity wall wows with its multitude of magnified specimens, while its labels photos and touchscreens allow visitors of all abilities to delve into specifics.

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While being immersed in a vibrant, moody atmosphere, visitors meet vampires from around the world. Unique interactives test visitors’ knowledge about vampires.

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A beloved design feature in the exhibition: custom wallpaper featuring duotones of various bloodfeeders. Flickering candles are among the elements infusing a gothic ambiance.

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Design + Execution

Since tiny bloodfeeders are the stars of the exhibition, the designers strove to create dramatic, immersive environments to take pressure off the small objects on display. Floor-to-ceiling curtains guide visitors past a huge sculpture of red blood cells, richly colored and lit. Beyond this space, videos, murals and consoles expand to fit the hall. Over 30 species of bloodfeeders are showcased in a long, curved wall, while smaller spaces for culture topics provide unique settings that are immersive and moody.

A series of compressions and expansions throughout the exhibit provide variety for visitors. This effect is magnified by changes in color and style as visitors move through the exhibition.

Very little realistic blood appears in the exhibition; the beauty of the natural world is emphasized and the tone is lightened with humor, whimsy and fun interactives.

The wall of bloodsuckers is a series of interlocking cabinets; the consoles are an assembly of modular pieces. The curtain walls are lightweight for travel, and components within the culture rooms are relatively easy to maneuver. The exhibition hall has angular elements, sloping walls and inclining support columns; the design solution was to create spaces independent of the hall, using standard geometries for the elements meant to travel.

Mid-way through the exhibit, visitors enjoy a video montage of films, cartoons, and songs about bloodsuckers. Bloodsucking action figures and posters enhance the theatre setting.

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An eighteenth century-themed room details the history of bloodletting, where graphics, live specimens, and a rare collection of artifacts combine to create the historical vibe.

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Super-sized backlits highlight the diseases carried by bloodfeeders. The beauty of nature is emphasized to engage visitors while diminishing the fears inherent in the topic.

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Royal Ontario Museum
Project Details
This potentially difficult topic was translated into a fun exhibition rooted in science with easy to understand engaging and immersive spaces.
Juror 1
The red blood cell sculpture was a beautifully immersive moment in the exhibition, and the montage of bloodsuckers in film, cartoons and music was a really clever and playful content curation moment mid journey.
Juror 2
Design Team

Royal Ontario Museum

Photo Credits

Royal Ontario Museum

Open Date

November 2019