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Front End Research Preliminary Travel Report
November 2001

Exhibit planning team members traveled to view exhibitions and meet with staff at natural history museums and other free-choice learning environments around the country. Most of this travel preceded schematic design. Two trips remain to further investigate issues that arose as part of the design process, (e.g., bilingual labeling at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum), and to talk with other exhibit teams further along in the design process of similar exhibits (e.g., Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Texas Dinosaurs: How Do We Know?).

This study enabled the team to reflect on existing exhibitions and the experience of staff at other museums. Lessons learned fell into three primary categories:

  1. Exhibit design, paying particular attention to traffic flow, accessibility, and new technology
  2. Content delivery, analyzing which strategies were most effective for different types of information
  3. Operations, especially exhibit maintenance and the definition of roles with subcontractors.

Findings shaped the team exhibit philosophy and have been integrated into the design of Fossil Mysteries. Museum staff viewed the following paleontology exhibits with NSF funds, matching funds, or at personal expense. Whenever possible, team members interviewed staff, reviewed visitor research documents, and collected associated educational materials.

Museums visited

Halls of Saurischian and Ornithischian Dinosaurs*
Paleontology Hall*
Prehistoric North Carolina*
Life Over Time
Prehistoric Journey
Life Through Time
Masters of the Mesozoic
Pleistocene exhibits
The Third Planet
Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and The Lost World
   (traveling exhibits)
T. rex on Trial (traveling exhibit)
When Crocodiles Ruled (traveling exhibit)
American Museum of Natural History
National Museum of Natural History
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Field Museum of Natural History
Denver Museum of Nature and Science
California Academy of Sciences
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits
Milwaukee Public Museum
The Dinosaur Society

Museum of the Rockies
Science Museum of Minnesota

*Travel funded by NSF planning grant

Lessons Learned

Design
Successful exhibits:
  • Integrate all aspects of the exhibit, lighting, air handling, electrical needs so there are no visual distractions, e.g. the dinosaur halls at the American Museum of Natural History put all the air handling equipment under the floor, leaving the ceiling open and the historic beauty of the architecture uncluttered.
  • Use every opportunity to augment the visitor experience, e.g. pressed leaves incorporated into light panels at the Bronx Zoo Congo Gorilla Forest.
  • Use the architectural space to create an environment and augment the exhibit message, e.g. the Bronx Zoo carefully controls views into their animal enclosures to maximize the perception of depth and the natural setting.

In some exhibits, lighting appeared to be an afterthought rather than incorporated in the overall design.

Content Delivery

Operations

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