Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Splinters from Green Design

Splinters from Green Design The Spring 2010 issue of the Exhibitionist features an article on the challenges of green exhibit design by Kathy Gustafson-Hilton. I was happy to be interviewed for the article and think it is critical to acknowledge the challenges of sustainable design in order to move from idealistic notions to a more sophisticated understanding of what sustainable exhibit design can be.

At Gyroscope, sustainability is a driving force in our design work. But we recognize the need for green strategies to be shaped by the specifics a project. Looking for the "perfect" green material (like interface flooring, which checks a lot of the boxes) leads to an impossible equation trying to balance carbon footprint vs economic impact vs resource management. Instead of focusing on these abstract equations we need to ask what the sustainable vision of the institution is and how (or if...) the visitor will experiencethat. 

This framework can serve as a structure for making difficult decisions and can also draw out opportunities to enrich the visitor's experience. There is an argument to be made that sustainable design in exhibits needs to be opportunistic and that it is only within the specifics of a project that "being green" can be realized.

I was inspired to recently hear Brenda Baker describe the new Madison Children's Museum and the way they have let their values and opportunities guide their design process to make what will be a truly unique place. Their commitment to the local community, and a tight budget, led to a decision to only use locally salvaged materials and and almost entirely local labor to design and build their exhibits. The flooring is from a local gymnasium, exhibits are made from local street signs, and there is an airplane found in a nearby forrest that acts as a table. I think they were offered the plane 3 months before their scheduled opening date - so the combination of their commitment and their creativity has been remarkable.

There are not many museums that are able to be flexible and nimble enough to handle this approach. In fact, there are not many BUILDING projects at all that can do this.  The Rural Studio has been consistently able to - but working on a shoestring budget and seeking innovation are in that program's DNA.

A unique physical plant that is a physical expression of the local community and also an embodiment of the organization's values, culture, and role in the community - to us, that's a great working definition of "green."

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