Step Right Up!

Burns & McDonnell’s Battle of the Brains is one of the nation’s most unique K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) competitions, with thousands of students competing to transform their idea into a permanent exhibit at Kansas City’s Science City at Union Station.


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Practice Area


Union Station Kansas City


The Challenge

In 2021, cheered on by their families, teachers and hundreds of proud fans in the community via livestream, 12 Tonganoxie Middle School students took the stage to unveil Step Right Up!, Science City’s newest exhibit. The student’s winning proposal, Step Right Up! is designed to help guests overcome carnival games’ deception and learn to win. Burns & McDonnell’s integrated team of architects, designers, engineers and construction professionals collaborated to transform the students’ vision into a reality. Before the grand reveal, the students were treated to the opportunity to experience a behind the scenes look at what it took to turn their initial idea into an interactive exhibit.

Project Vision

Exploring STEM concepts through classic carnival games, the vibrant exhibit examines the difference between losing and winning in terms of understanding probability, statistics, the law of physics and a body’s natural ability to connect sight and movements. The integrated team took the students’ design and brought it to life, building an immersive experience with the vision to create a space that felt as though a traveling carnival had temporarily set up shop, bringing new excitement and thrills to children while transporting adult visitors back to carnivals of their youth.

The entrance to Step Right Up! greets visitors with vibrant color and features educational insight on the history of carnival games.

Burns & McDonnell

The center of the exhibit features a custom Roller Bowler interactive, designed to simultaneously entertain children and their parents.

Burns & McDonnell

Each interactive has been uniquely branded with elements reminiscent of the challenges that lie in store for guests.

Burns & McDonnell

Each interactive has been uniquely branded with elements reminiscent of the challenges that lie in store for guests.

Burns & McDonnell

Design + Execution

Beginning with spatial planning and strategy, the Burns & McDonnell team designed a space that would support each carnival game. All exhibits elements were analyzed to determine functionality that would best illustrate the science secret behind each game. Through the use of birch plywood — formed into exhibit casework and irregularly sized mirror boxes throughout the space — the team was able to instill the feeling of impermanence. Additionally, a fantastical explosion of color and energy emerges from each box, displaying a uniquely branded carnival interactive. A total of 11 interactive exhibit features were incorporated to illustrate the different laws of physics.

The revealing ceiling gives viewers below on the first floor a sneak peak of all the activity happening in Step Right Up!

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Tonganoxie students have fun experimenting with Newton’s second law at the Roller Bowler exhibit.

Burns & McDonnell

A Tonganoxie student tests his hand-eye coordination at the Maze Craze exhibit.

Burns & McDonnell

Burns & McDonnell
Project Details
Empowering young students to become co-designers results in a cheerful, magical exhibit to entertain all ages. We appreciate the seamless integration of educational objectives and exhibition design, using gamification to inspire curiosity and learning.
Juror 1
We loved that this project was co-created by students and designers, from the result of a national challenge to kids to design a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) exhibit. The exhibit looks so much like a fun carnival, that it is easy to overlook its true purpose—to empower kids to use STEAM principles to understand how amusement park games are rigged, and methods to level the playing field. Nowhere else did we see play so effectively combined with learning.
Juror 2
Design Team

Tonganoxie Middle School Students
Julee Koncak (community relations director)
Joel Jacobsen (architectural director)
Charlotte Lewin (senior community relations strategist)
Chelsea Wilson (marketing & public relations business partner)
Zack Cole (senior architect)
Sophie Lapping (senior architect/project manager)
Andrew Healey (assistant construction manager)
Keith Teagarden (construction superintendent)
Brandon Guffey (senior graphic designer)
Shannon Farr (experiential graphic designer)
Erich Noack (writer/editor)
Melanie Luttig (market research analyst)


Roto, 3 Axis Inc., Platinum XP (fabrication)
Burns & McDonnell (architecture)

Photo Credits

Bryan Fairbanks (photographer)
Doug Johnston, Taylor High (videographer)
Photos and Videos courtesy of Burns & McDonnell

Open Date

March 2021