A workshop on sound in science center planning and design
Friday, October 5, 2001
In our highly visual society, museum design is often thought of
in terms of architecture, exhibit furniture and devices, lighting,
labels, and signs. Sound gets less attention, and often as a negative
factor, after installation is complete. This workshop was designed
to heighten awareness of the museum soundscapefrom ambient
sound (and noise) to sound as an element of multisensory exhibit
experiences. The goal was to increase our understanding of the
potential of sound in creating environments and experiences that
give pleasure and enhance learning, for a wide variety of people.
Thirty-five people participated.
Participants introduced themselves by sharing their favorite sounds.
The sounds that were named, often with much warmth and nostalgia,
mirrored the preferences identified in surveys carried out in
four distinct cultures. Everywhere, the sounds rated most highly
were of water, wind, birds, specific musical instruments and vocal
music, and laughter. (For more, see The Soundscape, by
Kathleen McLean, Director of Public Programs & Center for Public
Exhibition at The Exploratorium, San Francisco
Kathleen kicked off the workshop by sharing an audiotape
of the sound environment at her museum, made three years earlier.
As part of an effort to improve the visitor experience, The Exploratorium
brought in Robert Fry to be part of the Sound and Hearing Group.
Case study of The Exploratorium
Robert Fry, The Exploratorium
Robert identified common challenges, and talked about
ways these are being addressed at The Exploratorium, including:
(1) focusing sound that needs to happen; (2) addressing sounds
that shouldn't be there through baffling, damping of motors, labyrinth
air channels, and other techniques; and (3) considering building
acoustics and adjacencies (including adjustments in programming).
Orientation and wayfinding
Ellen Rubin, Access Consultant, New York
Ellen shared personal and professional reflections on
sound as an aspect of orientation and wayfinding. She showed videotapes
of an excerpt from the film Stand and Deliverone
without audio description, and one withto illustrate how
dramatically even a simple modification can enhance an audiovisual
experience for people who are blind. She also described devices
she is helping to develop that will aid in wayfinding within museums
using wireless telephones and beacons.
Sound design for museums
Maribeth Back, Xerox PARC
Maribeth builds prototypes in new genres that incorporate several
sensory modes. Among them are the Listen Reader and other exhibits in
XFR: Experiments in the Future of Reading, a traveling exhibition
that was on display at the Arizona Science Center at the time of the conference.
Maribeth is interested in how people understand sound and other dynamic
processes, and how good design can take advantage of this understanding.
She shared perspectives on sound design in museums..
Working on exhibits
Tom Nielsen, Children's Discovery Museum in San Jose
J. Shipley Newlin, Science Museum of Minnesota
Betty Davidson, Museum of Science, Boston
Tom, J., and Betty opened the afternoon's work by sharing
their perspectives on aspects of sound in their own exhibit work.
The group walked to the Arizona Science Center to listen to exhibits,
and to the overall sound environment in the building. Four groups
then discussed different aspects of soundboth sound as a
"positive" element of exhibit design, and noise and strategies
for limiting it.
The workshop was coordinated by Wendy Pollock of ASTC
and sponsored by Folio Museums & Environments and Jeff Kennedy Associates,
with additional support from the National Science Foundation.