Design Lab Progress

When we first started working on Design Lab, we invited a number of exhibition firms to come in to talk to us about how we might collaborate on this project.  This process helped us to realize that we were not really creating an exhibition space per se, but rather an armature or environment that would support design-based learning activities.  We would not be trying to tell a unified story through the space, but rather inviting visitors to build things, to test them, and to evaluate and share their work.  The predilection of exhibition design firms to design…well…exhibitions made it difficult for us to communicate the nature of the space we were looking to develop.

Through extensive discussions we ended up by engaging an interesting, brilliant, and complicated team of two design firms with very different skill sets.  We are working with Local Projects, a growing shop that has a focus on digital media; and Situ Studios, an artisan shop of architects/builders who pride themselves on building what they design.   We are just ending the concept design phase, and are at a moment of thinking…wow…this is actually coming together.  And the Design Lab team has been so deeply gratified by the success of this unconventional pairing. 

Local Projects was started by Jake Barton, a graduate of the ubiquitous ITP program at NYU.  It first came to prominence with the revolutionary and inspirational StoryCorps kiosks that opened around 9/11, and Local Projects has continued to grow and innovate through projects such as the 9/11 Memorial, the BMW/Guggenheim Lab project, work with digital media in museums, parks, and other public venues.  Increasingly they are being asked to work on experience design more generally, but their core competence is around digital media, interactivity, and story telling.  They have devised some really creative approaches to working with collections in museums as well as a suite of media education tools for the Jacob Burns Media Arts Lab

I first encountered Situ Studios through a group called Solar One, an urban environmental education group that operates Stuyvesant Cove Park on the East River of Manhattan.  I serve on the Solar One Board, and was blown away by a series of installations that Situ did in the park for community environmental arts days.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one, because these installations ended up by being adapted for public arts/environments festivals around the country.  Here are some images of this work

We have reached the end of the concept phase, and the amazing thing is how the two firms are gelling as a team.  The image at the top of this post suggests the kind of integration of digital and physical that we are planning.  Without going into too many administrative details, there was a lot of contract negotiation that went on to delineate the role of each team.  The conceptual design phase was let as one contract with LP in lead and Situ working collaboratively with the LP team.  The design development/cd phase, as we are currently planning it, will be two separate contracts as each firm’s work becomes more specific.  So it will be up to us to integrate.

In the mean time, we have been prototyping activities with the public.  You can see more about this in the Design Lab blog .  This month we had visitors creating and sharing shadow puppets in conjunction with an installation of Design-io’s wonderful Puppet Parade interactive( see Design-io’s blog for more on our work with them).  Its worth mentioning that the combination of Puppet Parade, the traveling exhibition from OMSI called Animation, and our design based activities, we have had record visitorship, with 4,100 people coming on one day, 50% higher than our previous record.

This week, we have been harvesting staff comments from the operations, public programs, education, and development staff on the Design Lab concept documents.  There have been some really valuable and substantive responses.  For those of you reading this who are at NYSCI, please feel free to go into the North Wing Conference Room and look at the drawings and connect with Peggy Monahan or me with any comments and questions. 

For those of you reading this offsite, we will make selections from the concept design phase available online.