CCA graduate design students spent the spring semester exploring innovative ways of integrating art and design with the natural sciences in order to enhance the educational experience of visitors to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
The project was a collaboration between two CCA graduate courses: The Teaching and Documentation Project, taught by Linda Yaven, and Graduate Design Studio 2: Form + Language, taught by Raul Cabra.
The purpose of the project was for students to experience research and prototype testing—a crucial component of the design process—in an educational context.
Currently occupying a temporary space in downtown San Francisco while its new building (designed by Renzo Piano) is built in Golden Gate Park, the Academy became interested in how faculty and students from a lively design laboratory like CCA might bring new insights to their design rationale, working methods, and strategies. After observing the physical structure and spaces of the museum and how visitors interact within it, the students identified ways in which art and design might alter or enhance visitors' experiences. They then created and tested prototype installation aids.
Some of the students, like Chanida Buranatrakul and Maria Johansson, worked at solving specific problems they identified within the museum's spaces, such as finding an alternative to the sometimes hard to follow exhibition map. Others sought to simply add a dimension to visitors' experience of the natural history museum—Navid Ghaem's oversized kaleidoscope positioned in front of an aquarium of colorful fish, for example.
Zara Logue and Adelaida Mejia created a tentlike structure for younger visitors that resembled a jellyfish within a vast room of aquariums. Made out of translucent recyclable plastic, the structure drapes around floor pillows in organic shapes and casts an ethereal orange glow of reflected light from the tanks. Called the "Storytelling Pod," it offered a cozy, restful place within the larger open space. While testing the prototype, the students found that children were much more at ease when being read to within the dwelling and that parents instinctively tended to join their children, adding to the sense of calm and comfort.
Seeking ways in which the museum store could be an educational environment, Tom Hall and Andriyanto Wibowo designed a kid's game using probably the least expensive toy in the store, the low-tech, no-frills, injection-molded plastic insects. Centered on an in-store display, "Bugs Battlefield" is a sort of wildlife rock/paper/scissors, in which kids lose or gain points if they are prey or predator, slow or fast.
Other students who created projects for the class included Ryan Alexiev, Nathan Davis, and Azusa Oda.
This is the first year that CCA students in the MFA Program in Design have collaborated with the Academy of Sciences. Previous collaborations have taken place with K–12 schools. The institutional collaboration was initiated by CCA faculty member Marina McDougall along with Academy exhibition director Linda Kulik, with the encouragement of CCA president Michael Roth and Academy director Patrick Kociolek.
The museum staff seemed delighted and intrigued by the results. When the students presented their findings, what started as a two-hour final critique became a lively three-hour dialogue on the impact of design on how a natural history museum serves its visitors and the community.
Kulik commented, "Staff who interfaced with the students enjoyed their fresh perspectives and unique design approaches." For CCA the Academy offers what one participating graduate student described as a lifetime of design challenges.
Further CCA and Academy collaborations are in the works.Read the rest