Client: American Museum of Natural History
Location: New York, NY, United States
Completion date: 2023
director of design
exhibition elements fabrication
tension fabric structure- design and engineering
tension fabric structure- frame fabrication
tension fabric structure- fabric patterning, stitching, installation
tension fabric structure- installation
Cynthia Thompson, MFA
“A tension fabric structure leads visitors through a new exhibition gallery to the entrance of Invisible Worlds. Made of curvilinear metal and stretched fabric, this serpentine ribbon both compliments the architectural style of the Gilder Center and serves as a visual metaphor for the main theme of the experience, that all life is connected.
The exhibition develops this theme in a series of chapters, or sections—that life is connected by DNA, ecosystems, food webs and communication. In this way, the preshow sets up the big ideas that will surround visitors in the projection experience that follows.
Our concept was to create a continuous structure that serves as a delivery device for all projections, graphics and touchscreen interactives, as well as cases with specimens, live animals and models. And by following the ribbon from its beginning to end, visitors can appreciate some of the many ways that life on Earth is connected as they make their way to the entrance of the main Invisible Worlds experience.” Michael Meister, Director of Design, Exhibition Department, American Museum of Natural History
The museum's designers created the 'preshow' anteroom in-house, and asked Transformit to engineer, fabricate and mount the 250-foot ribbon to its supporting structure. The ribbon literally leads the way to the 'Invisible Worlds' experience, while educating and entertaining visitors. The ribbon effectively integrates the preshow room experience with the ‘Invisible Worlds’ experience.
Because the building was under construction during the design phase, and because all of the room’s walls are curved, close cooperation was required to ensure that everything fit well on site. The ribbon, beautiful in drawings and renderings, demanded a high level (of skill, craft, artistry) in its execution to live up to its potential.
Prior to fabrication, Transformit had the partially-completed room measured with LIDAR, which revealed that the HVAC ducts were not as drawn, and much more intrusive into the space than anyone had thought. An accurate 3d CAD as-built model was made using the Lidar scan. The entire structure was built to that model, then preassembled and installed in our shop on temporary walls matching those at the museum. In the words of Michael Meister, the finished structure “fits like a glove.”
Every point of contact or interaction between the ribbon and the exhibition elements- video projections, specimen cases, illuminated graphics, touchscreens- was proven by mockups, dry runs and samples in multiple iterations over a period of months. Is it possible to view graphics through a layer of fabric? Which fabric? How close or far? How well does the fabric perform as a projection screen? What is the process for making repairs to equipment behind the fabric? All tested and retested until all were satisfied. During installation, the fabric ‘skin’ was sent back, once, to our shop for fitting modifications, known as ‘edits’. The completed 250 foot ribbon shows few, if any, wrinkles. Some useful and attractive innovations came of our persistent interactive collaboration: the round frames of specimen cases and back-lit graphics were pushed up against the fabric, adding interest to the sensual curves of the stretched fabric; the video projections were mapped to ellipses that match the fabric’s topography; the fabric surface was used for both front and rear projections. The railings shown in the photos are not primarily handrails; they are intended to prevent people from blocking the video projections, and to assist those with poor eyesight.