Museum Exhibit

This was a project assigned to me for my Environmental Design Mini class at CMU in my Sophomore year. This project required me to design a museum exhibit based on an artist or pre-existing exhibit in local Pittsburgh museums to fit in the Miller ICA at CMU. I chose the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

My main idea for this exhibit was to mirror a fantasy version of a cave while highlighting the natural beauty of the gems that are featured. This translated to my mood board through the use of dark grays and blacks to mimic the atmosphere of a cave. However, light was a key part in my exhibit and I wanted to include some sort of interactive aspect between visitors and light beams and the gems. This is why I chose to use images of gems where they are illuminated and included colors in my palette which reminded me of what light looks like when it is refracted through a clear crystalline structure. The text that I chose was a minimalist fine print because I felt that the delicate yet bold letters paired well with the aesthetic that I’m attempting to create. I plan to have a path of plastic gems embedded in the cave-like walls that will light up as visitors walk past to guide them through the exhibit similar to the top right image of a cave.

Above is the floor plan that I made to better understand the space that I was working in. The Miller ICA is where CMU has unique artists display their work temporarily. The most difficult part of this space is the fact that it is not very large and we are limited to the first floor of the Miller ICA.

The above image is of my first storyboard for the interactions in my exhibit. I want to plan my exhibit to have new ways to interact with the gems that you don’t get at the original Hillman hall. My main focus is on how light interacts with the gems unique structures, but I’m having a difficult time conceptualizing that. My main idea is to have the back wall full of gems that allow visitors to re-angle lights around them, but I haven’t thought through how this will work fully.

Above is my Parti Diagram which shows my initial ideas for my exhibit layout. I decided to include a part of the exhibit that allows visitors to touch replicas of the gems since I feel that is one of the most frustrating parts of visiting the actual Hillman hall. Visitors will then move on to gems lining the walls that are organized by property. Then they will have the chance to interact with the gems and light to see how the light refracts and changes between each gem structure. I changed a lot about my layout from my initial storyboard. I think I didn’t have any of my interactions thought through enough, and once I started to consider what I wanted my interactions to be like the plan started to come together.

Here is my first prototype for how my light up gems throughout the exhibit will work, as well as each display which will illuminate as visitors approach it. It uses an ultrasonic proximity sensor which is connected to an Arduino and LED, so when objects near it the gems will illuminate.

I decided to change the layout of my exhibit and now when visitors go through the touch exhibit they will chose a gem to carry with them through the exhibit. This gem will cause different events to occur in the next part of the exhibit that will tell and show the visitor about the history and origins of that gem. Then in the light interaction room visitors can bring their gem up to different light sources and angles to see how light changes their view of the gem and explains why it interacts that way with their specific gem. Visitors will then deposit their replica gem at the end of the exhibit when they get to the Hillman hall info section.

I prototyped my light interaction using an Arduino and it went fairly smoothly. It was nice to see how this interaction would really work and, given more time, it would be interesting to incorporate it into my physical model.

I decided to make the walls of my physical model out of clay to simulate the rock texture that I’d like. I’m imaging walls similar to rock climbing walls without the holds, made of plaster for the full sized exhibit. I tried researching a couple different ways to achieve the cave look that I wanted and other than some sort of clay, the only other option would be making a mould or using plaster in my small model. I chose plasticine because I figured it would give me more flexibility since it wouldn’t dry as I was making up my mind on design choices. I started by covering my center room with clay and after realizing that it would be expensive for me to cover my whole model, I re-covered it by flattening the clay into sheets and moulded them to have pockets of air. These pockets give the illusion of a rocky texture without filling the pockets with clay.

My Sketchup model went pretty well after I got through the learning curve of this program. Similar to my physical model, the rock wall texture that I was imaging was difficult to recreate. I originally found a pattern of rocks that I intended to put on the walls to simulate the rocky texture, but when I started doing this it was taking a very long time and looked more like a brick house wall than a rock climbing wall. I created this wall by drawing a triangular pattern on the wall, extruding it to a variety of levels and then using the warp tool to give them varying slopes. This was tricky because I had to be careful not to distort the slopes too much and create holes in the walls. I wish that I had more time to learn the more advanced tools of Sketchup so that I could make the walls more detailed and accurate.

Above is a screen capture from my Sketchup model that I then photoshopped details into to create a more in depth view of what the touch exhibit would look like. I created illustrations for the gem lights along the walls that are emitting a soft glow, and I chose to keep those looking less realistic than the gems in the case due to the gems on the walls being plastic in the full exhibit. The exhibit would be dimly lit with lights above the gems that would also be connected to proximity sensors and illuminate the gems when visitors approach them.

Above you can see my first digital interaction, where visitors place their chosen gem into a container below a screen. This container then scans the gem and is displayed on the touch screen above where visitors can then scroll through information about the history of the gem, unique properties, and where it came from. I chose to make the default display for all of the screens in my exhibit an ombre from pink to blue because this matches the color scheme that I had intended for the exhibit.

Above you can see my second digital interaction in the light interaction exhibit, and this exhibit allows visitors to turn their gem over a light source and see what unique structural properties are revealed about the gem from this. When visitors place their gem in the light stream, the gem is scanned and tracked so that the screen above the light will replicate which way that the gem is turned. The screen will also show facts about the gems structure and compare it to other gems as the visitor rotates the gem in the light. There will also be knobs on the light box that allows visitors to make the light brighter/dimmer or change the color of it