Hall of Human Origins


American Museum of Natural History

Practice Area


American Museum of Natural History

Project Vision

The Hall of Human Origins is a permanent 9,000-sq.-ft. exhibit, presenting the history of human evolution from our earliest ancestors millions of years ago to modern Homo sapiens. In a first for an exhibition of its kind, the hall combines the latest in genomic science with up-to-date discoveries in the fossil record.

The graphics use a series of layered bands that reference the geographical strata where fossil evidence is found. In the first section of the exhibit, which presents DNA and fossil evidence on two parallel angled walls, the graphics provide a unifying stripe across the room: titles are on one layer of graphics, while the information is contained in a second layer on top. The room is unified by panoramic images: chromosomes on the DNA wall and sweeping landscapes behind the fossil wall.

Throughout the hall, graphics experiment with the idea of a “strip of clarity,” wherein bands of the background images are blurred, while others come into sharp focus. The bands reinforce the horizontality of the graphics and provide another virtual layer within the graphic surface. They also explore the notion of different points of focus, paralleling the recent addition of DNA evidence, helping to clarify the fossil record.

The central rotunda traces the ancestry of humans with landmark specimens of early hominids, dioramas, and reconstructions. In the upright skeleton cases, graphics use a different kind of layering; timelines are silkscreened horizontally on the case backs, while vertical graphics layer over them. The intersections of the two become important graphic and content moments.

The final section explores what sets humans apart from other species, examining artistic develoment, language, and use of tools. The graphics return to the horizontal banding of the first section, this time using the depth of the exhibitry to create viewing windows for objects, videos, or simply photos.

Project Details
This comprehensive exhibition does a masterful job of grouping wall text, information graphics, and supporting material around compelling larger-scale exhibit material. The design team implicitly understands the range of attention spans of museumgoers, and the need to design exhibit material for a range of scales and speeds of engagement. In addition, the exhibits are beautifully designed, from the use of a natural palette of greens, blues, and earth rust colors to the choice of typography.
Juror 1
Design Team

David Harvey (design director); Tim Nissen (exhibit design director); Lydia Romero (exhibit design); David Clinard (lighting design); Stephanie Reyer (graphic design director); Catherine Weese, Hartmut Jordan, Rick Onorato, Ellen Sitkin, Iris Jan, Dan Ownbey, Amanda Bowers, Kelvin Chiang, Allison Grynberg (graphic design); Carolyn Seitz (production manager); Mindy Weisberger (media director); Sarah Galloway (senior media producer); Lee Patrick, Tiya Gordon (media producers); Hannah Readnour (media researcher); Kenzo Niwa (media assistant); Lauri Halderman (editorial director); Sasha Nemecek (senior editor); Kevin Boyd, Margaret Dornfeld, Betsy Hanson, Martin Schwabacher, John Whitney (writers); Jose Ramos (photo research)

Design Firm

American Museum of Natural History

Project Area

9,000 sq. ft.


Perkins Eastman Architect (architects), Bovis Lend Lease (construction management), Zubatkin Owner’s Representation (project construction executive), Brandston Partnership (lighting consultants), North American Theatrix (A/V), Heintges Glass (glass consultant)


Art Guild (exhibit fabrication); Greenbranch, Andres Imaging & Graphics (graphic production); Paulette Giguere (silkscreening)