Paola Zellner | Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, USA

Between the Pyramid and the Labyrinth

Museum experiences are determined by the triad content-space-visitor, where spaces, mostly preexisting and repurposed, house the content for the visitor to access. While the act of curating the work can span from producing seemingly objective displays to establishing poignantly critical positions, the act of designing the exhibit, has found, beyond the conflict of architecture yielding to art, ways to potentiate the experiencing of the work through the activation of both space, and the role of the visitor.

Within the wealth of design precedents, there is an increasing incorporation of interactive architecture (IA) and responsive technologies (RT) toward these ends. Designs that “responded to an immediate and passing whim of a single person”1  have been present for decades, yet many contemporary proposals have broadened their capabilities beyond a simple reaction, to encourage the visitor’s participation in the construction of a simulated dialog as form of involvement. Although IA/RT are successful in arresting our minds, it also is essential to involve the intuitive and sensing body, in dialog with material and space, for a more transformative experience of the content.

In its ability to offer the visitor such an experience, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, by architect Daniel Libeskind, exemplifies the discord that can result from imbalanced relationships within the triad. The Holocaust Tower for instance, an empty, dark, unconditioned, resonant space, is extremely effective in inducing the deepest visceral awareness and self-reflection. Contrasting this experience, in the galleries the overflowing content, at times mindless of the architecture, numbs the visitor, and sporadic IA act more as devices to help one endure the lengthy clutter than to enhance the overall experience. This condition asks us to reconsider roles of space, and of IA/RT to support and intensify the visitor’s dialog with the content.

The paper will address these questions by presenting the development of the design Between the Pyramid and the Labyrinth, an exhibit for k-12 students to be installed in October in the Center for the Performing Arts at Virginia Tech, and sponsored by the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology. The exhibit will offer opportunities for children to creatively interact with, and learn about the potential that lies within the convergence of art and technology, as they meander through the space exploring prospective paths out of the labyrinth. From the designer’s standpoint, the project, referencing Bernard Tschumi ‘imaginary blending’2 of reason and senses, is a means to explore generative relationships between content, space, IA/RT, and the visitor, that potentiate each other, returning experiences unattainable were any of these absent.