Given the historic building fabric and its fragile finishes, the museum required the 10,000 square foot installation to maintain structural independence from the envelope—a challenge that was solved through the use of undulating steel screens made with richly colored vinyl threads from Bolon.
Designers were impressed by Bolon’s color range and the fact that each thread yard is comprised of two colors. The material itself is inexpensive, a significant factor in providing an economical temporary installation with an overall $100K budget. The screens were either woven for more transparency between areas or hung for more privacy between visitor and object onto black steel frames.
Offering both visual and tactile stimuli, these screens evoked “moods” by oscillating between cooler, low-frequency colors and warmer, high-frequency colors that seamlessly blended into different gradients.
They served as both backdrops to the objects and definers of spaces, allowing different aesthetics to occupy the same installation while pragmatically solving issues of sound and aroma bleed and requirements for varied lighting levels.
Design + Execution
The modes of display considered how visitors would interact with the works both individually and in groups. Visitors were encouraged to smell, feel and listen to highly distinct and original manifestations of design to better understand the complexity of our world, beyond vision.
While some exhibition pieces were secured under vitrines, the majority were experienced through multiple senses and required custom means of installation, security, and contamination prevention. As awareness on accessibility was the show’s intent, a cohesive braille overlay on museum labels provided simultaneous information for all. Labels remained at a static height, tilted for custom accessibility throughout all areas.
A complimentary smartphone app connected visitors to full-length visual and aural materials and T-coil–enabled devices provided audio descriptions of video content. The use of scent and vibration became an attraction for those with hearing impairments. The ability to understand music in varied ways coupled with other presentation techniques were of particular interest to this segment of visitors.
A large number of museum professionals visited the show. They were specifically interested in how we met the challenges of making meaningful displays that use tactile presentations. Also, there were numerous visits by groups of blind persons and those with low visibility. The use of braille in conjunction with the labeling in a consistent way made this show an excellent example of how to work with their population.
The show’s success was measured in that it effectively breaks the barrier of sight, signaling to all that there is a broader sensory environment and as such sets an example for other museums, and that visitors felt a greater appreciation for how design can provide alternative means of understanding through a multi-sensory process.
Monica Coghlan (associate for design)
José Luís Vidalon (associate project manager)
Ellen Wong (lead designer)
Derek Lee (designer)
Emma Chen (designer)
David Genco (graphic design)
Capitol Museum Services (fabricator)