What do outer space capsules, submarines, and office buildings have in common? Each was conceived as a closed system, a self-sustaining physical environment that is set apart from its surroundings and uses its own matter and energy to function. “Closed Worlds” was an exhibition at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York that presents 41 living prototypes for these ecologically regenerative systems. The designers created an innovative design for the exhibition that is a closed system in itself, complete with its own custom typeface, display methodology and organizational structure.
The designers worked in close collaboration with the exhibition curator, Lydia Kallipoliti, on the design of the show. Each of the 41 prototypes were extensively researched, and the challenge for the designers was to create an engaging context that would draw visitors into the idea of closed systems and at the same time organize volumes of data and information. The subject is timely; contemporary discussions about how global warming, recycling, sustainability and net-zero energy building all tie into the study and analysis of ecologically regenerative systems.
The exhibition presents each prototype as its own mini-world: Each of the 41 projects is displayed within a cylinder suspended from the ceiling and visitors are invited to step inside as if inhabiting an “egosphere.” The exterior of each styrene cylinder teases the prototype within with an intriguing question: “Can man become amphibian?,” “Can the body plug into the computer?” and “What is the power of shit?” The interior presents a synopsis of the prototype and analysis in the form of net-zero diagrams that illustrate the ecological footprint and feedback drawings that visualize performance and energy flow. Beneath each cylinder is a corresponding number, used as a notational tool to locate the project within a timeline on the gallery wall.
The cylinders are accompanied by an additional prototype entitled “Some World Games,” a virtual reality installation by Farzin Farzin that invites visitors to explore and experiment with the archive of 41 closed systems in the larger exhibition.
The designers approached the exhibition design as the 43rd closed system in “Closed Worlds,” and created a custom typeface called CLOSED for the identity and graphics. The font visually echoes the confined, self-sustaining physical environments in the show, removing as much negative space as possible from within and between its letterforms.
The numbers beneath the 41 prototype cylinders direct visitors to a linear timeline that runs the length of the gallery. The typology of each prototype on the timeline is represented by a symbol based on a simple shape, indicating one of seven categories: autonomous houses, pods, equipment, self-reliant communities, ecotourism, corporate ecology and earth colonies. Each prototype in the timeline also contains a color-coded bar graph that depicts the cycles of the various resources within its closed system. More extensive information is presented in an accompanying leaflet for each project, which visitors are invited to take home. Together the 41 leaflets are conceived of as a book for the exhibition.
The timeline led to a supergraphic called “Speculative Histories” that featured projects and publications more loosely associated with the timeline, including images of speculative design projects and legislation throughout the respective periods.
The exhibition was displayed for three months in New York and has been reportedly the most visited (over 5,000 attendees) and media-covered exhibition in the recent history of Storefront.
Natasha Jen (partner in charge), Jan Hyun Han (graphic and type designer), Melodie Yashar (exhibition designer)
868 sq ft
Lydia Kallipoliti (curator and principal researcher), Alyssa Goraieb (researcher), Hamza Hasan (researcher), Tiffany Montanez (researcher), Catherine Walker (researcher), Royd Zhang (researcher), Miguel Lantigua Inoa (researcher), Emily Estes (researcher), Danielle Griffo (researcher), and Chendru Starkloff (researcher), Tope Olujobi (illustrator of feedback drawings), Hamza Hasan (lexicon editor), Max Lauter of Storefront for Art and Architecture (gallery manager and project coordinator)*Special thanks to Bess Krietemeyer, Andreas Theodoridis, Cecilia Ramos, Alex Miller
Joseph Vidich of Kin & Company (fabrication assistance), Christopher Adam Architectural Illumination Engineering (lighting design assistance), Farzin Lotfi-Jam, Sharif Anous and John Arnold of Farzin Farzin (VR installation concept, design, and fabrication)