An interactive museum exhibition of cartography
Course: Arch 4017 / ID 3854
Timeline: Jan 2021 - May 2021
Team: Chloe Kiernicki (Arch), Manuni Dhruv, Inika Gupta, Jade McPike (ID)
Role: Architect & Exhibition Designer
The Design of Physical Spaces & Interactive Technologies
This interdisciplinary studio challenged us to work in teams to integrate the design of physical spaces and the design of interactive technologies. The result of this collaboration would be a cohesive museum exhibition focused on either maps or jewels designed within one of the museum buildings produced in a previous architectural studio course. Although the design methodologies of Architecture & Industrial Design differed greatly, the emphasis on user experience was central to both throughout the entire project.
The High Museum of Art
Observational Precedent Study
In order to deepen our understanding of museum exhibition design, we observed Atlanta's High Museum of Art to understand how the building's architecture and arrangement of artwork crafted a thoughtful narrative and affected circulation patterns. Sightlines and axes of orientation became important factors for drawing relationships between certain objects and encouraging movement through the exhibition. For instance, a series of statues placed in a corridor each faced different directions to force visitors to weave around to view the artwork properly, and each statue was placed in front of a painting that informed the statue's setting or origin. Even so, we noticed that the visitors, especially the younger ones, sped through the museum without drawing these relationships. Further, we noticed that the museum experience was highly individual to the group, and no visitor groups interacted with others.

How can we encourage collaboration and exchange between visitor groups?

How can we engage visitors of all age groups to slow down and interact with the exhibition content at a deeper level?
The High Museum of Art
Social Media Analysis
At the time, there were fewer museum visitors due to the pandemic, so we also turned to social media for a record of how people documented their experiences at the High. Our analysis revealed that the most popularly photographed exhibits were those that invited people to interact in some way- whether they could physically climb into it, surround themselves with it, or see themselves in it. Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrors was particularly popular because it invited visitors into enclosed mirrored rooms where they could immerse themselves and become part of the artwork. Visitors enjoyed becoming an active participant of the artwork itself.

How can we invite visitors to become active participants of the exhibition?
Museum Content & Building Selection
Maps or Jewels?
Keeping in mind the goals we formed in our precedent analysis, we were then presented with the choice between focusing our museum content on maps or jewels. We ultimately decided on maps for the flexibility of definition and the opportunity to layer information. While other teams focused on specific types of maps, our team chose to explore the act of mapping itself by inviting visitors to become cartographers.

For the building selection, we chose Grace Lee's jewelry museum in Chastain Park. Although we had chosen maps, we were drawn to the jewelry museum for its clear distinction of layers, axes of orientation, and room for strong intervention. The building interiors were largely blank which served as a clean canvas for our architectural and exhibition design changes.
Initial Brainstorming
Interaction Ideas
We began exploring various ways to engage visitors in active mapping activities. These were designed to encourage people to understand their relative position at multiple scales: within the building, the city, and the universe. Then, we began to organize those experiences within the building to craft a narrative, but it was clear that we needed to first pinpoint what kind of story we wanted to tell.
Exhibition Organization
Sequenced Storytelling
We continued to research the history of map-making, cartographic techniques, and its socio-cultural implications. The idea of our universe as a series of layers was prolific throughout various cultures, often describing the earth in relation to the heavens. Our building, with its clear distinction of layers, allowed for the opportunity to organize our exhibits as such.

Nestled into the ground, the basement exhibition is anchored on representations of the earth and local cityscape. Lifted to the sky, the upper exhibition focuses on the heavens and our understanding of ourselves within the cosmos through various cultural lenses.
Building Alterations
Architectural Voice
Upon inheriting this building, we made a series of critical changes. The first of which included mirroring the entire building to create a direct connection to the adjacent park and a public promenade through the site. Further, we reconfigured the circulation to encourage a directional flow through the exhibits, added a structural system, and designed the interiors to strengthen existing axes of orientation.
Exhibition Design & Experience
Exhibition Voice
The exhibition experience is organized between two main exhibits on the lower and upper floors. Within each exhibit, there are at least three activities: one for learning from past mappings, one for actively mapping, and one for collaborating and exchanging mappings.
Exhibition Design & Experience
Mapping the Earth & Local Cityscape
In the basement exhibition of the local cityscape, the projection interaction area invites visitors to input their interests and mood to generate recommended activities and sites in Atlanta. Those recommendations are then saved to the digital wallet of the optional app and projected onto the large 3D model of the city for collective viewing and conversation. On the opposite sloping wall of the projection model, past mappings narrating the history of Atlanta inform, direct, and add context to the evolving city. The flooring of the basement exposes the soil and structural system beneath through glass to further contextualize the space with the earth, including weaving patterns of the railroads and rivers that led to Atlanta's creation. Finally at the end of the corridor, visitors integrate their learnings with their lived experiences of the city by creating psychogeography maps: either freely or through an existing framework. As a result, they can view their work besides the work of others, contributing to a growing searchable library of mappings.
Exhibition Design & Experience
Mapping the Heavens & Ourselves
In the upper exhibition of the heavens, the collecting constellations activity is held within a maze of inner and outer rings designed to make the visitor feel disoriented, as lost travelers once had to navigate using the stars. However, clear axes are cut through the maze to provide orienting sight lines. The larger rings host screens of constellations that visitors have to hunt for, and the inner rings provide detailed information on the various cultural interpretations and myths associated with the discovered constellation. Next, the constellation creation desk creates a spine through the space, allowing people to create their own interpretations and stories from the stars. Above the desk, a slit in the roof opens a view to the sky to draw a relationship between the mapping activity and the context. Lastly, the stargazing room allows visitors to then view their creations in communication with existing constellations to generate a dialogue with the past and with each other.
User Interface Design
Interaction Voice
While we anchored the exhibition narrative and physical design, we also focused on how the digital interactions would support the experience. My contributions to the project were largely through the architecture and exhibition lenses with my partner Chloe, and the three Industrial Design students led this portion of the project. However, the whole team worked in tandem to maintain a clear vision and direction for the entire museum experience.

For the user interface playbook, a large, inviting color palette maintains a playful feel while providing enough distinct hues to differentiate projections on the city model and stargazing room. The fonts are clearly legible and contrast well, making them suitable for the various interfaces.

An optional app enhances the museum experience by allowing users to skip the kiosk ticketing and printing process, save and share creations, and stay updated on the exhibitions. Screen interactions were designed for each interactive museum exhibit including the city model projection interaction, mental mapping exercise, and constellation collection & creation.
What I Learned
The architecture and industrial design studio challenged my team to merge the design of physical spaces and the design of interactive technologies. At first, it required communication to find the underlying common ground between the disciplines. A journey map isn’t quite a building circulation diagram. Yet it illustrates the digital experience of a user navigating an interaction in the same way a visitor may move through space. Through careful research of user-centered design methodologies, I quickly began to appreciate how tools like user journey maps and personas could support empathy with museum visitors. Placing myself in the mindset of a busy mom or wheelchair-bound student allowed me to design more effectively for people’s needs, including integrated seating and wider circulation paths. The interdisciplinary collaboration not only strengthened my communication skills and design methodologies, but it showed me the potential of integrated technology to engage people within a space. Digital interactions enriched the exhibition by allowing people to actively participate with content and contextualize their surroundings. Since then, I’ve sought to explore the field of human-computer interaction further to understand how it, like architecture, could create enriching experiences.
“People come to know the world the way they come to map it -- through their perceptions of how its elements are connected and of how they should move among them.”
-Edward Rothstein, Map makers explore the contours of power; new study tries to break the Eurocentric mold. New York Times, 29 May 1999, Section B, page 9.