Wonderful Illusion

With this being a holiday week here in the US this week’s inspiration takes on a whimsical and playful turn.

We recently ran across this wonderful illusion experience that would be at home “as is” in so many places we have worked with. This is the Dalston House by Leandro Erlich done for the Barbican.


The shear elegance of the concept is amazing. Certainly the basic idea of this experience could be replicated for so many other “environments” and could be themed in ways that reflect different content.

But one of the key points of this experience is its “instagram” moment. (Perhaps in some bygone area we might call it a “Kodak” moment or “Polaroid” moment – by the way, when did a bygone era mean in our lifetime J )  Certainly used in theme park design but at times not used enough in exhibition design is creating a viewpoint, a moment where visitors can memorialize their experience. This beautiful example is a wonderful reminder of this.

In today’s digital photo, anytime world, creating these moments are a powerful experience on many levels.

Share with us where you see these in exhibitions you visit.

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seeking infinity

Here at the studio we still remember playing as a kid inside a store’s changing room where the mirrors on the left and the right were on hinges. This allowed us to turn them to face each other and we could step between them and see ourselves disappear into what seemed like infinity.

We as humans seem to have an affinity to peer into infinity.

Thinking about this the incredible appeal of peering into the infinite is one that is filled with mystery, the unknown, a world beyond our own. It taps into the human desire to explore and understand.

Several recent installations allows us to explore this both as the participant and the observer. As observer one can explore the infinite with “Outside In” a work for the 22nd International Garden Festival of Chaumont Sur Loire, France created by architects Meir Lobaton corona and Ulli Heckmann.



This work allows us to look into an infinite garden. It would seem that in this piece the longing of wanting to explore the space might be even more pronounced since one is actually outside and “just outside” too.

The second experience is “The Phoenix Is Closer Than It Appears” created by Thilo Frank. In this piece the observer is at the core (literally) and part of the infinity.

The work actually has two points of view. Here installed at the Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg, Denmark, the outside blends perfectly into the space creating an almost hidden installation.

The second way in which it works is to enter inside where you find yourself at the center of infinity where you are invited to swing.

Here at the studio we are struck by the way these seem to tap into some primal desire of humans to look into infinity and the emotions that evoke. The playfulness, mystery, seeking understanding, are all very powerful.

In creating exhibition design as much as we look for education learning impacts tied to curriculum in today’s modern museum thinking – we strongly urge that we should set emotions such as these at the core of what we are designing as well.  While there may in fact need to be more didactic exhibits, paired with experiences that touch these emotional goals, an exhibition can create a much more memorable and impactful outcome. Much like the simple experiences of that infinity we found in the store’s changing room.



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digital water

So, a few days ago, we posted the new interface/augmented reality project by Fujitsu Laboratories. This offers some interesting ideas for integrating augmented reality into museum exhibition environments. Now we have a new one to take a look at.

Here is another new digital interface that offers more fascinating ways to interact with digital information. AquaTop turns a pool of water into an interactive, three-dimensional digital interface surface.


AquaTop is a projection system that uses something like bath salts to create a white water screen surface. (Most likely, other substances could work as well.) The other components include a sensor system (in this case, Kinect), a projector, lighting control, and interactive programming. The system won the Grand Prize at Laval Virtual this year.

There is something intuitive and pleasing about the physicality of water and the common digital “touch” interface. Makes one wonder what other actions we might develop if we projected on water more often.

One particularly fascinating thing about AquaTop is that it directly and visually demonstrates multiple points of interface – for example, by showing visible markers when someone touches the surface with multiple fingers – from under the surface! We’re also intrigued about using other sensor systems and how we might manipulate things like waves or other physical water phenomena. We can also imagine some truly creative and fun ways to incorporate this technology into a water play area or other water related exhibit.

AquaTop has some similar attirbutes to the posting we had about 3d projections. You can check out that earlier post here. 

What ideas do you have? We’d love to hear what you’re imagining.

A shout-out to Louise Julie Bertrand who pointed us to this project – thank you.

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Engaging Spaces

One of the aspects of exhibition design that we enjoy doing is not only creating engaging exhibit experiences but also creating engaging experience spaces.

What is wonderful is when the space that the exhibits are in is an exhibit itself.

We’ve recently run across two recent installations that capture that feeling and would work well in several institutions we can think of or for several topics we have explored as exhibitions.

The first is Cloud Parking by Fujiko Nakaya

This piece done in Linz, Austria allowed experiencers to get the view of feeling of walking amongst the clouds that might fill the sky. The installation uses high pressure pumps and fog nozzles.  What a special experience this might be to have as part of an institution from a aviation museum, children’s museum to an exhibition on weather, birds or even dreaming.

The second piece is “fluff” an interactive lighting system from the Japanese design studio tangent.


This interactive lighting display made from balloons (1.1 meters in diameter) and LEDs changes its appearance according to sound and video displays. What immediately came to mind was to use this to create the feeling of being beneath the waves surrounded by “jellies” or as an evocative space to discuss the idea of different forms of life such as what might evolve on a gas giant.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our field’s exhibition spaces would focus as much on this type of inspiration as they often do on curricula or  education.




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musical cooperation


So, with another snowfall here at the studio yet again our thoughts turned to spring and the upcoming summer. With that in mind, we share with you this simple but evocative experience that could be at home at an art, science, or children’s museum.

21 Swings by daily tous les jours a design studio with a focus on participation. This piece takes what we what have as field have done countless times (musical stairs or giant keyboards) and adds a complexity element (different series of notes) and also adds the element of group participation, which can be sometimes hard in other musical experiences.  It should be pointed out that this experience is part of the “empathiCITY, making our city together” exhibition at the 2013 biennale internationale design saint-etienne.

daily tous les jours has done some other interesting pieces that might be of interest. Check out the these:

The “On The Difficulty of Serving Tea” a piece where we can see a lot of  connections to a variety of cultural as well as science topics

and “Machine à Turlute” which demonstrates another interesting physical musical collaborative experience and cultural exploration.

As always, let us know of other experience of the same ilk, or if we can inspire with you.

By the way, let’s go Spring! Come on, get here soon!


photo by Oliver Blouin


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Mechanical Interactive Walls

Some of the exhibits that have always seemed to suck us into mesmerizing states of fascination have actually been interactive (and at times non-interactive) large-scale wall experiences. Recently, we have become aware of two that should get your brain turning and will no doubt “spin off” countless ideas. (Pardon the pun, which you’ll understand when you see these.) The first is a work by the design group called Humans Since 1982. This is called “A Million Times.”



















Made with clocks (a subtle time-related experience, connected in this way to the melting piece Calamidad Cósmica), this piece can create messages and depict complex patterns and fields, suggesting many ideas for riffing and evoking many related ideas and aspects. A system like this could be responsive to viewers or to objects such as magnets or other more technological EM transmitters (i.e. cell phones anyone?). This could be a beautiful way to engage people in some complex ideas. On its onw it’s a beautiful, evocative piece.

Another piece we ran across was the experience “Flow 5.0” by Daan Roosegaarde a Dutch artist.



Here, what interests us is that fact that this interactive piece is different than, say, “Pipe Dream” by Bruce Shapiro    


or the work of Daniel Rozin (like this at the Perot Museum).    



“Flow 5.0” actually sends something physical back to the viewer – moving air. This could open up other ideas about what else could touch the viewer/user that they might explore or appreciate.

Certainly, with both the physical and visual interactive and non-interactive wall experiences, there is ample material and inspiration to evoke some truly immersive and memorable museum visits, not to mention make many buildings more engaging.

Let us know about more if you run across them. What ideas do these spin off?

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creating a smile with scale

To combat the winter blahs this week our inspiration takes us back to playing with scale but with a little levity.  As we have mentioned before,  playing with scale is both an artist’s as well as a designer’s invaluable tool. While used as a sense of awe, its role in creating humor and fun – a moment of levity in a serious world or serious museum “environment” – should perhaps be explored more often. Here are two favorites that have passed by our desk this week.
The first is the great installation called “Bad Dog” (we need to admit that ALCHEMY studio has two office Labradors).

Yes, that’s yellow paint that get sprayed on the museum wall. Check out the public’ reaction through this local tv story!

This work, done by Richard Jackson, is part of an exhibition called “Ain’t Painting A Pain” at the Orange County Museum of Art, which provides a retrospective of the Los Angeles artist’s work.

The second is the piece “Calamidad Cósmica” by the artist Luciana Rondolini.


These giant popsicles are intended to have viewers reflect on the process of time elapsing. Of course, they also evoke the fun and memories that such items have played in one’s life. Surely an exhibit such as this would be great fun in a children’s museum or as a surprise encounter in an outside gallery.

Be sure to send us your fun encounters with scale and look for some upcoming inspirations sparked by ideas about time.

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3D Projections

Amazing 3D projection projects – Moving from informational to expression.

In the museum and experience context, the idea of projection to convey information  is a common occurrence.  Here at the studio we are looking to explore how the projection itself  - not the content of the projection – can be used to excite, awe, and engage the public in ways maybe no one thought it could. You might say these are “engagement screens.”

On side of the scale, where the projection is “complete” but the screen invites interactivity, is this novel and cool “water” projection by art studio Red Paper Heart.

Wow made us want to dive right in.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the screen’s inability to express the complete image is the beauty and allure of this experiment that Brian Mafftt did during the recent “Nemo” winter storm. Funny, in reality it also uses “water” like the above example – just in a different form.


In fact, you can tell it’s a DLP projector by the red, green and blue “sparkles” – a wonderful way of showing how a projection image is composed of these colors. You can see some of his still images here.


Now, of course, we have seen images projected on fog and images made of water, but there is something compelling about both of these and the fact that the “screen” itself can be the power of a projected experience versus the image projected. Obviously, a powerful experience would be to marry both of them. If you have other examples or ideas, please feel free to share them here.

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web of engagement

Recently, at the Giant Screen Cinema Association conference, we here at ALCHEMY studio were asked to speak on how to maximize the educational impact of giant screen films while still reserving the entertainment aspect of this impressive medium. The thinking we shared is one that we feel is applicable to exhibitions as well as films, since we work in both mediums. While there clearly are differences between large screen films and exhibitions, there are some similarities that tie them together in terms of impact and entertainment.

  1. They both try to be impact-driven as well as meet  leisure time entertainment goals.
  2. They are mass communication mediums – they are for the general public, taken in by large numbers at the same time.
  3. Increasingly, there is a desire by either the medium or the institutions exhibiting these experiences to impact not only  the mass public but some very targeted groups including policy makers, and even those who don’t usually interact with these mediums.
  4. To various degrees, the experience is determined by the designer/producer, not by the visitor/viewer.
  5. And finally, perhaps most importantly, exhibitions and giant screen films are both storytelling mediums.

  But in our world these mediums and the stories they tell no longer sit in a vacuum. With the rise of social media and the ever-growing sophistication of the devices that we use while on the move – ipods, smart phones, eyeglass interfaces, etc. – the audience expectations of  who, how , when and with whom interactions occur is changing.   This means that, to be successful in both in impact and storytelling (entertainment):

we as designers and producers must incorporate all mediums – the “web of engagement” – that now surround us.

This clearly comes through in the recent research being done by Latitude Research. We really recommend reading their short summary. Their recent work in the future of storytelling is a clear sign that as we develop our stories in either exhibitions or films, we need to use this web of engagement if we are to meet the desires and the place where our visitors and viewers are. They target four ”I’s” to think about: Immersion- instant access to deeper information, provide context, different viewpoints, heighten the sensory experience, extend the story Interactivity – change the plot, interact with virtual and real characters and ideas, interact with others taking in the story, heighten the sensory experiences Integration – integrate the real/my world into the story, seamless interaction between media, use location, time, environment Impact – empowering action from the audience, self-improvement, commercial and philanthropic All of these require using the ubiquitous web of information and the anytime, anyplace technology.  Imagine these scenarios (taken, in this instance, from upcoming giant screen films):

  • What was/is school like for a Muslim in Jerusalem?
  • Can we direct where the tornado hunters go today?
  • Can you give me live “news updates” on the wildebeest migration?
  • Can we use Kickstarter to start a sequel?
  • When is the cosplay Dragon gala ball across the country?

These are just a few examples of the kinds of things the new generations are asking for from their stories. And, again, it’s not just films on the receiving end of this need – it will include exhibitions and other storytelling mediums (transmedia) as time moves forward.

                                                                                                Flow Media

We need to break out of our model of thinking of siloed one media projects when we start on a subject from the beginning.

We should let the story tell us what media to use to create which impacts.  This is the future of film and exhibitions that really make a difference. 

Clearly, as we design experiences, all of us must think across multiple mediums and determine which impacts and what parts of the story should be told where and how. These modes should be synced from the start because our audiences will be looking for that seamless coherence and alignment.

illustration from Latitude

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Evolving Experiences

Tinkering Studio – Exploratorium 

In today’s designed world we are surrounded by or immersed in spaces and experiences that have been carefully thought out to the nth degree. An example that we are all familiar with are the “lands” and “kingdoms” one finds in the Disney parks or Universal theme park. In these instances often we enjoy these experiences as we look to be transported to a fictional world and are accepting of this conceit. It is a non-reality that is authentic.

But in our designed world we also find ourselves in real places – coffee shops, exhibitions, restaurants, stores that also attempt to set a place, a location, a time that are special – but often we are struck that these feel fake, inauthentic and we leave dissatisfied. Why?

These thoughts came to mind when recently Colin Raney IDEO commented at the SEGD conference in New York that:

Ever evolving experiences provide authenticity and engagement.

It struck a chord that this phrase may cover many of the most recent experience trends in science centers and museums as well as some of the most popular.

Take for example the rise of Tinkering or “Making” spaces – whether it be Maker’s Faire or Tinkering studio space in museums.  While certainly there are learning impacts that these spaces provide they also seem to be places that people enjoy and find “real.”  Certainly these are spaces whose outcome and experiences are always evolving and changing.

Lab spaces like those at the Science Museum of Minnesota or those that ALCHMEY studio has had experience with at Liberty Science Center and the Tech Museum

Infection Connection Lab – Liberty Science Center

are also popular and once again these spaces change and evolve and have the ability to evolve and adapt.

There are other spaces such as these that include merging social media/exhibit spaces and art/science galleries like the Science Gallery in Dublin that come to mind as spaces or experiences that evolve. Additionally spaces that engage the natural world and its constantly changing nature also evolve over time. Parks, sculpture gardens and pieces such as the Neukom Vivarium at the Seattle Museum of Art’s Olympic Sculpture Park.

are examples.

Neukom Vivarium - Olympic Sculpture Park

This leaves some open questions that are worth exploring

-          Can we study and evaluate what experiences are deemed more “authentic.” What makes them so?

-          Do they attract more engagement? Do they have more impact?

-          How about creating a “measurement” of how much an experience can evolve?

If you are interested in joining with ALCHEMY studio in exploring these let us know. Meanwhile we would love to hear of examples you feel match this idea.

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