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D.C., part three: National Museum of Natural History

14 Nov 2009


For this final post about my trip to D.C., I’m sharing some photographs from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. NMNH is a big museum, with some exhibits dating back to the Paleolithic era, so I skipped a lot of it. The three permanent exhibits below are the ones to see if, like me, you’re primarily interested in a museum’s graphics.

Ocean Hall
The Ocean Hall recently re-opened, in 2008, after renovations, and redesign by the Maryland-based firm Gallagher & Associates. Different subject areas in the Ocean Hall had color palettes distinct from other areas, which was important because there was no obvious “path” for a visitor to follow; everyone wandered around in whatever direction struck their fancy. The colors unified the island-like display cases. Below, left: I’ll save my thoughts on the use of dimensional letters for a later post, but I do like the colors and composition of this graphic. (Seahorses, they are photogenic!) Below, right: These infilled, etched illustrations were quite nice.




Osteology: Hall of Bones
Cheery colors, bold patterns—and bones! This is an older exhibit, but wonderful nonetheless. I liked the clever interplays between the patterns in the backs of artifact cases and the skeletons’ poses. I didn’t look closely at how these graphics were made (wish I had) but I’d guess the patterns were painted/stenciled on the wall and the text was silkscreened?



Hall of Mammals
This is an excellent redesign by Canadian firm Reich + Petch. It opened in 2003. Below, left: The gallery panels were beautiful: scenically-treated and textured lightboxes; in contrast to the overall minimalism of the exhibit. (The third image below is a close-up of the texture on the North American panel.) I liked the use of vector art in the dioramas’ backdrops, and the great line illustrations on the specimen labels.




Below: I was told there are supposed to be GOBOs on the dioramas. They were off when I was there, but I think I prefer this one being stark white, without additional lighting effects.



Thanks to my coworker Jeff, for the two Hall of Bones photos and the ‘Australia diorama’ and ‘Africa Rainforest’ photos in Hall of Mammals.


One Comment leave one →
  1. 06 May 2010 1:01 pm

    I worked for Gallagher & Associates for a couple of years while living in DC and agree that their graphic designers have a knack for color. It was great to see the photos you posted. Thanks.

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