The Museum of Science and Industry Chicago challenged Evidence Design to envision an exhibition of physics and chemistry that reflects its core mission: inspire middle-school children to achieve their full potential in science and engineering. The solution was to leverage the drama and fascination of the forces of nature as platforms for exploring basic scientific principles.
Science Storms is a ground-breaking 26,000-sq.-ft. exhibition in which visitors interact with dynamic, large-scale experiments that explore nature’s most powerful phenomena— tornadoes, lightning, fire, tsunamis, sunlight, avalanches, and atoms in motion—and then, through hands-on experimentation, investigate the science behind these forces.
Inspired by nature and the innate human desire to reveal its secrets, Science Storms was conceived as a wondrous laboratory. The 200-ft.-long by 100-ft.-wide by 65-ft. gallery is an ethereal expanse whose surfaces are washed by blue light that creates an indefinite sense of space. The exhibition is anchored by seven viscerally beautiful, large-scale interactive demonstrations of natural phenomena, surrounded by a constellation of smaller experiments. Interactive and linear media throughout the gallery complement the mechanical elements.
Strong environmental graphics tie the exhibit elements together into a cohesive, composed experience, while exhibition casework has several roles: carry mechanical exhibits; house touchscreens and exhibit controls; and provide instructions and interpretive graphics. The design approach for the consoles directly engages visitors with the demonstrations without competing with them. Each graphic element supports the overall theme of the exhibition while providing crisp, clear instructions, explanations, and contextualized information.
Signage materials reference the beauty of nature, but can withstand intense public use. The robust consoles and signage are constructed of glass, stainless steel, and Glacier White Corian. Routed with 1/32-in.-diameter drill bits, Corian type is CNC-etched second-surface to create soft, glowing titles evocative of natural phenomena; sharp instructional type is etched first-surface and sanded to a seamless plane. Lambda transparencies laminated behind glass hold interpretive graphics with imagery expressing the phenomena they explore. All consoles and signage are illuminated with low-voltage LuminousFilm LED panels for energy-efficiency and long life.
The gallery’s vast scale and the exhibits’ sheer size demand larger-than-life environmental graphics. To orient guests, massive columns are leveraged to carry architecturally-scaled titles along with dramatic images of natural phenomena related to each thematic area. Wrapped in Vutek ink-jet prints on tough Ultra-Flex material, the columns also carry wayfinding maps and inspirational quotes from scientists and artists.
Seven large-scale linear videos feature striking visuals of natural phenomena and stories of scientists who investigate them. Adopting typography from the signage, they function as dynamic signage and carry the core inspirational messages of the exhibit.
Science Storms reinvigorates the museum’s dedication to fundamental science through a synthesis of compelling interactive exhibits, environmental media, and strong contextual storytelling bound together in a highly choreographed design.
Jack Pascarosa (project director, 3D design); Shari Berman (director, 2D design and media); Len Soccolich, Carlos Fierro (exhibit designers); Rondi Davies (content specialist); Ari Nakamura (senior graphic designer); Josh Whitehead (graphic production); Laura Sheedy (designer)
The Wheel Thing (engineering); Focus Lighting (lighting design); Cortina Productions (media production); Ned Kahn Studios (tornado, avalanche exhibits); Paul Friedlander (string wave exhibit); Daniel Cox, Oregon State University (tsunami exhibit); Underwriters Laboratories (fire exhibit); Carpenter Norris Consulting (heliostat/rainbow exhibit); Peter Sedgley (light behaviors), SH Acoustics (acoustic, audio design)
Norcon Construction (general contractor), Lexington Design + Fabrication (exhibit fabrication, stainless steel exhibit consoles, signage), Chicago Scenic Studios (sunlight/rainbow exhibit), Advanced Entertainment Technology (fire and Tesla coil exhibits), Production Resource Group (tornado and avalanche exhibits), MAD Systems (AV integration), Photocenter Imaging (Lambda Fugichrome), Crush Creative (Vutek prints for column graphics)