Designing exhibits for a museum whose purpose is to celebrate a language is a bit different from creating a shrine for artifacts. At the Museum of the Portuguese Language, the world’s first museum of its kind, Ralph Appelbaum Associates presents the language as a dynamic cultural heritage and uses technology to emphasize its permanent state of transformation.
Appelbaum’s goal was to create a “democratic” space that would not be concerned with the notion of cultivated language or right and wrong ways to speak it. The team sought to immerse visitors in a sensual journey through language using audiovisuals, lectures, virtual experiences, and interactive opportunities.
The Language Plaza, a “planetarium of language,” mixes text from Brazil’s most important literary figures with lyrics to popular music and projects them onto the ceiling and reflects them on the floor, creating a dynamic anthology. Popular singers and writers read the anthology, providing a soundtrack for the space.
In the Grand Gallery, a 120-meter projection screen is a moving mural, showing the Portuguese language in daily life and revealing that language is what holds Brazil together—the technology of all technologies. Crossed Words features eight totems representing the influences of languages that contributed to Brazilian Portuguese. The Etymology Table is an interactive game that allows visitors to play with the creation of words and learn about the origins of words they use.
Like the historic train station where it is located, the museum is a crossroads that represents the coming together of Brazilians—and their language—from all the country’s regions and walks of life.
Ralph Appelbaum (principal in charge); James Cathcart (project director/lead designer); Andres Clerici (content developer/writer); Noboru Inoue (exhibit designer/modelmaker); Nancy Hoerner (senior graphic designer); Caroline Brownell, Gabriela Gasparini (graphic designers); Sylvia Juran (editor); George Robertson, Pia Samrithikul (3D visualization)
Ralph Appebaum Associates
Isa Grinspum Ferraz (content coordinator); Marcello Dantas, Magnetoscopio (technical design); Rico Linz (graphic production); Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Pedro Mendes de Rocha (architects)