Museums are public repositories of knowledge, culture, history and are responsible for their preservation and propagation. These public institutions are a vital part of society’s fabric and are an excellent resource for learning. Museum exhibits bring alive the monotonous words in a textbook and establish a visual connection with the minds of the visitors. The New York Hall of Science is a prime example of an interactive museum.

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With the advent of technology, museums have had to re-evaluate themselves to stay relevant. Museums are thus curating interactive experiences which makes them more accessible and immersive. Interactive exhibits employ a mix of technologies and people interaction to stimulate the minds and senses of the visitors.

Located in New York City in the Queens borough, New York Hall of Science, or NYSCI as it is known locally is a museum dedicated to the learning of STEM subjects [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] through hands-on-learning.

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Entrance to the New York Hall of Science ©️ flickr.com
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Site plan of the New York Hall of Science ©️archdaily.com

The Hall of Science was envisioned as a science pavilion to be converted into a museum after the culmination of the 1965 World Fair. Designed by Harrison and Abramovitz Architects, the 80 feet high, undulating façade of the Great Hall forms the focal point of the Hall of Science. Designed for the exhibition called “Rendezvous in Space”, the Great Hall has employed the technique of Dalle de Verre, a process of arranging glass segments within a matrix of the concrete. The façade consists of more than five thousand coffered panels of cobalt blue glass and concrete. The Hall of Science was planned to mimic the shape of a cell and is a unique example of the Mid-century modernism style of Architecture.

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Undulating façade of the Great Hall ©️flickr.com
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The coffered panels with cobalt blue glass ©️ennead.com
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Close-up of the panels ©️ennead.com

In 2004, the Hall of Light was added as an expansion to the Hall of Science. Designed by Ennead, the horizontality of the new structure stands out against the backdrop of vertical Great Hall. The folded planes of the new structure are enveloped by fiber-glass panels that enable viewers to peek into the workings of the space inside. The expansion comprises two Permanent Exhibit Halls, a Hall for Traveling Exhibits, Science Classrooms, and, Teacher Training and Resource Centre.

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Hall of Light with the Great Hall seen in the background ©️flickr.com
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Hall of Light seen in the evening ©️ennead.com
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Folded planes of the roof as seen from the inside of Hall of Light ©️wikimedia.org
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Interior view of the Hall of Light ©️ennead.com

“Design-Make-Play” forms the core value of more than four hundred interactive exhibits that are a part of NYSCI.[1] “Design” emphasizes the development of problem-solving skills which are integral to the development of scientific temperament. “Make” enables visitors to learn through hands-on experiments. “Play” implores visitors to actively explore their creativity. The primary permanent exhibits include Design Lab, Connected Worlds, Maker Space, and Science Playground.

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Interior view of the Design Lab ©️www.flickr.com

The Design Lab hosts an array of hands-on activities, challenges, and experiments and is divided into five distinct spaces which are the Backstage, Sandbox, Studio, Treehouse, and Maker Space. The sprawling 10,000 sq. feet Design Lab is located in the Lower Central Pavilion in the heritage NYSCI building. Exposed materials, visible structural and electrical systems create an environment that encourages the values of learning and tinkering. Design Lab has an open plan with multiple avenues for visitors to experiment, build, learn, and observe.

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View overlooking the Sandbox ©️www.flickr.com

The Treehouse is a split-level area which allows the visitors to conduct experiments that demand a vertical fall. The structure of the Treehouse has been constructed using locally sourced birch wood and repurposed redwood from New York City water towers.

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The Treehouse ©️commons.wikimedia.org

Sandbox is an open enclosure where visitors are encouraged to build sturdy structures using wooden dowels and rubber bands. Space is enclosed by an organically shaped partition which also doubles up as a space for storage and seating.   

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View overlooking the Sandbox ©️www.flickr.com

Backstage is an area where the visitors get an opportunity to work on various engineering problems and devise solutions for them. In the Studio, the visitors can make models using circuits and create a micro-city of their own.

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Visitors making shadow puppets in the Backstage area ©️situstudio.com
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View showing the Studio ©️situstudio.com

Maker Space allows users to translate their designs into working prototypes. This 1200 sq. feet space is enclosed by a 3-pin-arch plywood structure which consists of a system of acoustic panels, storage cases, and display units. The moveable modular furniture can be fitted into the plywood structure thus enhancing the utilization of the floor space.

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Visitors making prototypes in the Maker Space ©️www.situstudio.com

The Great Hall houses an immersive experience called “Connected: Worlds”. The exhibit enables visitors to interact with six environments through location-searching, gesture-based technologies, and projection mapping on screens as large as 38 feet. The six different environments have their unique flora and fauna and are connected through shared resources of water. While interacting with the environments the visitors realize that their actions are responsible for maintaining the balance amongst them. Thus, through playful collective interactions, visitors are taught about environmental sustainability and the consequences of human interventions.

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Connected Worlds exhibit in the heritage Great Hall ©️flickr.com
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Visitors interacting with the exhibit ©️flickr.com
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Visitors interacting with the exhibit ©️flickr.com

The museum thus uses technology and public engagement to make Science and its allied subjects more accessible and enjoyable to its visitors. The New York Hall of Science challenges the preconceived notion of what a museum is and paves the path for what a museum should be.

Content reference https://www.schultzwilliams.com/museum-trends-museums-evolving-role-21st-century-communities/ https://nysci.org/home/about/  https://nysci.org/home/about/greathall/#:~:text=One%20of%20New%20York%20City’s,no%20corners%20or%20straight%20segments.

https://worldarchitecture.org/wa-top-teaser/pmev/project 

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http://www.ennead.com/work/new-york-hall-of-science 

https://www.world-architects.com/en/ennead-architects-new-york/project/new-york-hall-of-science-expansionhttps://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2012/03/22/new-york-hall-of-science-opens-new-maker-space/#271b70263f2c

http://www.situstudio.com/works/built/nysci-design-lab  

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https://worldarchitecture.org/authors-links/pncvm/new-york-hall-of-science-opens-design-lab.html  

https://nysci.org/home/exhibits/connected-worlds/

Author

Anushri Kulkarni is a 24-year-old, Mumbai based architect with a passion for green architecture. She is a voracious reader and consumes all genres with equal gusto. Apart from being an architect, she is also a budding architecture and interior photographer.

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