We're made out of what!? The purpose of this exhibition is pretty explicit, inside visitors explore the science surrounding the origins and evolution of humans. In many ways, the exhibition is very successful at achieving this goal through the use of of interactive media, hands-on experiences and physical artifacts to provides elements for a diverse audience.
Studying the outline of the exhibition, it appears that the curators work to highlight how humans are similar to other species and specific characteristics that make us distinct. Through the use of barriers, themed & unthemed ceiling fixtures the space is separated into three areas.
The first area focuses on DNA and fossil records and includes a number of interactive experiences. The second space is round and features dioramas of different stages of human evolution. It acts as a somewhat non-linear timeline of how we believed humans evolved. The third area focuses on specific elements that differentiate humans, such as music, art and technology.
The designers interpreted the content with a very diverse audience in mind. There is a hierarchy of information, most detailed information is installed at an adult height while more tactile and visual experiences are placed lower to accommodate children. The separation of the three areas of the exhibit explore human origins from different perspectives.
Many design elements, including interactive, physical, visual and auditory pieces were combined together to enhance the perspective on the topic in this exhibition.
The look & feel of this exhibition is different from many others at AMNH, without being too jarring. The space without the exhibition is best described as a big black box. I noticed how ceiling elements, glass barrier walls and railings were used to break up the space. Projections, when used were often displayed on non-traditional media such as glass. Many of the graphics were also presented on glass, which contributed to the industrial feeling of the exhibit. The presentation appears very modern and dynamic, with interesting features, such as the glass cased diorama at the entry to the second space. The space is dim with sharp spot lighting around exhibits, drawing visitors closer.
Looking closer, the content often included large points for casual readers with a plethora of additional information in smaller text. It is clear the exhibit is designed to appeal to many different ages. I found the pepper's ghost diorama to be particularly fascinating, as well as the captioning device included in the viewport.
The 'touch' indicator likely helps put parents at ease, it isn't always clear when kids can and cannot touch things.
The location of the Hall of Human Origins seems to present a particular challenge with guest flow. The space continues into the Hall of Meteorites which it itself is a dead-end. It seemed the exhibit was designed in such a way that visitors could travel down one side and snake back the other either after visiting the other hall or to return toward the Grand Gallery.
Some of the challenges of modern exhibition design were also apparent in the hall. I noticed that a number of the projectors were not functioning and a selection of embedded displays were also not working or malfunctioning. There is some challenge when dealing with more complex technology and devices that require maintenance in this setting. Additionally, there appears to be difficulty containing audio of different exhibits, the sound of a scientist speaking of the association of his religious beliefs and his work overpowered many of the other fixtures in the third area.
I believe the interpretation of the content in this exhibit is exceptional. When I moved to New York, I became a museum member and recall this exhibit being particularly interesting to me from a design standpoint. I might consider moving some of the information placards down slightly to make it easier for younger visitors to read, but I'm not sure if this is an actual problem. It would be good to also work to contain sound leaks from specific audio/visual displays.
Finding ways to present a complex topic to a diverse audience is clearly core to the role of design for modern exhibitions at the museum.