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Rainy day, Friday after Thanksgiving

29 Nov 2009

The Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed Connecticut Science Center opened this past June, boasting 40,000 square feet of exhibits and 150+ hands-on interactives. And the building’s nice, too. Kinetic sculptures hang in the vertigo-inducing, six-story-high central atrium. (Click on the lead-in photo above for the full picture.) One aspect of the building’s design that I really like is the number of windows; there are windows in the exhibit galleries that look out on the city of Hartford, and windows that look in, down on the atrium. To pause at those windows provides welcome and needed little moments of serenity.

I went to the science center on the rainy-day Friday after Thanksgiving. Yikes.

The museum is popular, no doubt about it. The pictures I’m about to show will give you little sense of the number of people there, nor of the mayhem happening around me. It seemed that just about everything in the museum spun, whistled, bounced, beeped, whizzed, banged…and was covered with smudgy little fingerprints. To the designers’ credit, the exhibits use low-energy lighting fixtures, which cuts their energy usage to 40% that of traditionally-lit exhibit spaces. It was too close to sensory-overload for my tastes, but if you’d like to see a lot of stellar, engaging exhibit interactives, you should take a trip here.

The exhibits were designed by Thinc Design (NY), with many interaction designers on their team: Snibbe Interactive, aesthetec, Boston Productions, and I don’t know who else (150+ interactives makes for a lot of interaction designers). Ten galleries in all, including a traveling exhibit (not designed by Thinc). *Correction below.
Of all the permanent galleries, I think the four shown below are the best.

Above: The Invention Dimension exhibit is about “the process of developing new products, new theories, new substances, and new uses for items that no one has ever thought of or attempted before.” The graphics are friendly, with rounded corners and bright, vibrant colors, and nicely illustrated—as seen in the top two photos, the illustrations are bold yet finely-detailed as in technical drawings.

Below: Energy City, about alternative energy technologies, was my favorite exhibit. I would describe the graphics as future-retro. More bright, bold colors, and video game-inspired diagrammatic illustrations. It was very neat.

The graphic panels appeared to be printed on a metallic substrate then laminated with a protective film, or printed on the second side of a laminating film. The number of graphic pieces in this gallery was impressive—in the photo below, on the right, I count ten individual graphics.

Exploring Space, self-explanatory? The letters above are acrylic, over a color-changing lightbox. The large-scale images of extraterrestrial surfaces were striking as background murals. Area panels were front- and rear-printed on a frosted acrylic, effectively using the material’s depth. Like the reader rail graphics (second row of photos below), they were simple but had interesting details.

The Forces in Motion exhibit, about the power of the wind, magnets, and robotics, took advantage of its high ceilings: huge blocks of bold colors, huge type (FREEZE!), and huge, simple, vector diagrams on the walls. The very last photo below is of a “design your own mag-lev train” (magnetic levitation) interactive. Science is cool.

*Correction: I mistakenly credited only Thinc on this project when in fact, they were partnered with Jeff Kennedy & Associates (Boston). Also, worth noting is another interaction design firm on the project, Red Hill Studios.

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