Hitchcock Center for the Environment: A "Certified Living Building"

AMHERST, Massachusetts — The building generates more power than it uses, creates enough potable water for those who visit and work inside, and produces just 35 gallons of wastewater per day because of its compostable toilets. And it’s a great place to learn how nature works and how people can emulate the diversity, efficiency, and sustainability of our earth’s natural systems.

Three years after the Hitchcock Center for the Environment opened a new learning center at the edge of the Hampshire College campus, the building is demonstrating the possibilities of a resilient, self-sufficient building.

With a third-party audit complete and 12 months of continuous operation showing the building is performing as designed, the Hitchcock Center’s headquarters became only the 23rd building across the globe – and the first in Massachusetts – to earn a Certified Living Building Award from the International Living Future Institute.

Presented May 2, 2019 to Executive Director Julie Johnson at the Living Future UnConference, an international sustainability conference in Seattle, the award means that the center has earned designation through the Living Building Challenge, considered the most rigorous standard for green buildings.

The Hitchcock Center building was designed by designLAB Architects of Boston and built by Wright Builders of Northampton. ObjectIDEA worked with the staff at the Hitchcock Center and the architects’ consulting team to realize a pedagogical approach for exhibits and programming.



Exhibits, Elbowing, and Exclusivity

In a rare confluence of two of my favorite interests, a weird story involving hockey and museums emerged a few weeks ago. 

"Hey, someone take Dougie's, he had to take off to go learn about Lewis and Clark."

"Hey, someone take Dougie's, he had to take off to go learn about Lewis and Clark."

For those of you who don't follow the NHL, Dougie Hamilton is one the league's best young defensemen, and was traded for the second time in his young career for nebulous "team chemistry/personal character issues." If you didn't feel like reading the linked article, Hamilton was regarded as something of an outlier in the Calgary Flames's locker room - when the other guys would go to a bar or a restaurant, he'd prefer his own pursuits, namely museums. 

This subsequently alienated him from his teammates and apparently so undermined team chemistry that it overshadowed his (many, many) contributions on the ice, and he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. This story blew up in the NHL community, and to their credit, many reporters wondered why a love for museums should be a mark against a player's ability to fit in with his teammates. After all, these guys all come from different backgrounds and learn to get along - why is this any different?

Hamilton has always been regarded as an extremely intelligent man, but it's interesting that museums were specifically named as his mark of shame, and the named reason for moving on from his team in Calgary. Now, for many, it's perhaps not breaking news that a bunch of multimillionaires in their 20s would rather hit the town than hit the newest Art Nouveau exhibit. That's fine, in a sense - different people have different interests. Hamilton should not have felt ostracized for having these different passions, of course. But it's the idea of "he liked museums" as shorthand for "this guy is a nerd, and who would want to go to a museum anyways, which is why his colleagues didn't like him" that should really give us pause. 

Pictured: Dougie Hamilton convinces Max Domi of the Phoenix Coyotes that he should broaden his intellectual horizons once his face heals.

Pictured: Dougie Hamilton convinces Max Domi of the Phoenix Coyotes that he should broaden his intellectual horizons once his face heals.

These concerns are especially valid in light of this post that was recently back in circulation on Twitter, in which Elizabeth Merritt writes on barriers of entry to museums. These barriers extend far beyond money to a myriad of sociological reasons - put simply, a lot of folks, regardless of income level, race, ethnicity, or geography simply do not feel welcome at, or interested in, museums. This is not good.

Many institutions have made remarkable strides in increasing their relevancy to the populations that they serve as they seek to break down these barriers. We must always continue this work, as it is critical to the sustainability of museums. As a field, we always try to be aware that museums can still be seen as stuffy, elitist, or just plain boring to the general public. Why did a bunch of pro hockey players feel that museums had nothing to offer them? What could these institutions have done to make sure that these guys felt welcome within their doors, and interested in what they had to offer? 

The creation of exhibits and programming that offer a welcoming experience to all should always be our goal. Dougie Hamilton should be able to do whatever he wants, but his teammates should have been attracted, at least a few times, to what museums had to offer. Museums should not be a place that only the "smart guys" want to attend, and where only they feel welcomed. I hope that Hamilton is able to convince some of the guys on his new team to join him on his next trip to an exhibit, and I am confident that museums everywhere will continue their vital work of making such a trip appealing to all.





"I regret nothing."

"I regret nothing."

PS - For those interested, a similar case of character assassination happened to Myron Rolle, a wonderful pro football prospect from Florida State who was projected to be a first round pick in the 2009 NFL draft until he was named as a Rhodes scholar and announced his intention to study at Oxford. Coaches and NFL personnel men openly mused over how "coachable" such a smart guy would be, and questions lingered about how important football could really be to Rolle. He dropped to the sixth round of the draft, which cost him millions of dollars, and he was out of the league within a few years. Professional sports are notoriously unfriendly to those who march to their own beat, even if that beat is being an elite intellectual. That said, this story does have a happy ending - Rolle is now a neurosurgery resident at Mass General after returning to FSU for med school. I have a feeling he doesn't regret being told he didn't have what it took to collide with other people.

Federal Grant Awarded to Hitchcock Center for "Learning from Nature" Exhibition Design

Amherst, MA – On June 29, 2016, Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) will be visiting the Hitchcock Center’s new living building site and announcing an exciting federal grant award to the Hitchcock Center from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The Hitchcock Center has been awarded a $148,586 IMLS grant for its innovative “Learning From Nature” exhibit design plan that will capture the interpretive potential of its artifacts and objects, its outdoor spaces, and built environment as portals into knowledge, feelings, and actions.

The Center’s “Learning From Nature” exhibit plan brings together a unique collaboration between Matt Kirchman of ObjectIDEAdesignLAB architects and the environmental educators of the Hitchcock Center.

The “Learning from Nature” exhibit design plan aims to render complex ecological concepts “alive” in simple, meaningful and memorable ways through interpretive and interactive displays centered on the following pedagogical framework: nature runs on sunlight, nature banks on diversity, nature demands local expertise, nature fits form to function, nature recycles everything, and nature uses only the energy it needs.

Visitors will be greeted with these principles immediately upon entering the building and will be encouraged to look, see, and learn how these principles have been put into action throughout the building and site.

A New Way to Experience the Story of Virginia

Brent Johnson Design (BJD) and Hadley Exhibits (fabricators) are putting the final touches on the 10,500 square foot exhibition, The Story of Virginia. Opening August 8, 2015, the exhibit houses some 700 objects from 15 thousand years of human history. 

Following intense phases of planning and design, the Virginia Historical Society is nearly complete with its $20 million renovation that has resulted in a modern new museum and a whole new experience for those interested in Virginia’s past. 

ObjectIDEA served BJD and VHS as exhibition planning consultants for the Story of Virginia.

Joint Statement from Museum Bloggers and Colleagues of Ferguson and Related Events

The recent series of events, from Ferguson to Cleveland and New York, have created a watershed moment. Things must change. New laws and policies will help, but any movement toward greater cultural and racial understanding and communication must be supported by our country’s cultural and educational infrastructure. Museums are a part of this educational and cultural network. What should be our role(s)?

Schools and other arts organizations are rising to the challenge.University law schools are hosting seminars on Ferguson. Colleges are addressing greater cultural and racial understanding in various courses. National education organizations and individual teachers are developing relevant curriculum resources, including the#FergusonSyllabus project initiated by Dr. Marcia Chatelain. Artists and arts organizations are contributing their spaces and their creative energies. And pop culture icons, from basketball players torock stars, are making highly visible commentary with their clothes and voices.

Where do museums fit in? Some might say that only museums with specific African American collections have a role, or perhaps only museums situated in the communities where these events have occurred. As mediators of culture, all museums should commit to identifying how they can connect to relevant contemporary issues irrespective of collection, focus, or mission.

We are a community of museum bloggers who write from a variety of perspectives and museum disciplines.  Yet our posts contain similar phrases such as  “21st century museums,” “changing museum paradigms,” “inclusiveness,” “co-curation,” “participatory” and “the museum as forum.”  We believe that strong connections should exist between museums and their communities. Forging those connections means listening and responding to those we serve and those we wish to serve.

There is hardly a community in the U.S. that is untouched by the reverberations emanating from Ferguson and its aftermath. Therefore we believe that museums everywhere should get involved. What should be our role–as institutions that claim to conduct their activities for the public benefit–in the face of ongoing struggles for greater social justice both at the local and national level?

We urge museums to consider these questions by first looking within. Is there equity and diversity in your policy and practice regarding staff, volunteers, and Board members? Are staff members talking about Ferguson and the deeper issues it raises? How do these issues relate to the mission and audience of your museum?  Do you have volunteers? What are they thinking and saying? How can the museum help volunteers and partners address their own questions about race, violence, and community?

We urge museums to look to their communities. Are there civic organizations in your area that are hosting conversations? Could you offer your auditorium as a meeting place? Could your director or other senior staff join local initiatives on this topic? If your museum has not until now been involved in community discussions, you may be met at first with suspicion as to your intentions. But now is a great time to start being involved.

Join with your community in addressing these issues. Museums may offer a unique range of resources and support to civic groups that are hoping to organize workshops or public conversations. Museums may want to use this moment not only to “respond” but also to “invest” in conversations and partnerships that call out inequity and racism and commit to positive change.

We invite you to join us in amplifying this statement. As of now, only the Association of African American Museums has issued a formal statement about the larger issues related to Ferguson, Cleveland and Staten Island. We believe that the silence of other museum organizations sends a message that these issues are the concern only of African Americans and African American Museums. We know that this is not the case. We are seeing in a variety of media – blogs, public statements, and conversations on Twitter and Facebook—that colleagues of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are concerned and are seeking guidance and dialogue in understanding the role of museums regarding these troubling events. We hope that organizations such as the American Alliance of Museums; theAssociation of Science-Technology Centers; the Association of Children’s Museums; the American Association for State and Local History and others, will join us in acknowledging the connections between our institutions and the social justice issues highlighted by Ferguson and related events.

You can join us by…

  • Posting and sharing this statement on your organization’s website or social media

Participating Bloggers and Colleagues

Gretchen Jennings, Museum Commons
Aletheia Wittman and Rose Paquet Kinsley, The Incluseum
Aleia Brown, AleiaBrown.org
Steven Lubar, On Public Humanities
Mike Murawski, Art Museum Teaching
Linda Norris, The Uncataloged Museum
Paul Orselli  ExhibiTricks: A Museum/Exhibit/Design Blog
Ed Rodley, Thinking About Museums
Adrianne Russell, Cabinet of Curiosities
Nina Simon, Museum 2.0
Rainey Tisdale, CityStories
Jeanne Vergeront  Museum Notes

Dear Boston

On April 15, 2013, two bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, transforming the city, its residents, and the runners and visitors participating in this world-famous event. Almost immediately, a makeshift memorial began to take shape, first at the police barricade at the intersection of Boylston and Berkeley Streets and later at Copley Square. People from across the globe left flowers, posters, notes, t-shirts, hats, tokens of all shapes and sizes, and—most significantly—running shoes. In June, the memorial was dismantled and these thousands of objects were transferred to the Boston City Archives for safekeeping. It is only now, after months of preservation and organization, that the collection’s meaning has become clear. Each of these objects, whether giant banner or tiny scrap of paper, store-bought or handmade, is a message of love, support, and hope for a city in mourning.

For the one-year anniversary of the bombing, selections from the memorial collection were displayed in the exhibition Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial at the Boston Public Library. ObjectIDEA served as the exhibition developer.

This exhibition provided an opportunity for visitors to once again experience the outpouring of love that everyday people brought to Copley Square in the first weeks after the bombing. It helped visitors make meaning from this tragedy while providing a quiet public space for reflection. As they encountered the profound emotions the messages from the memorial evoked, visitors were encouraged to ask themselves what they can do to sustain and build upon these expressions of communal support, and to move forward together to heal a grieving city.

Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial was organized by a partnership that included the Boston City Archives,Boston Art CommissionNew England Museum Association, and Boston Public Library. It was made possible by the generous support of Iron Mountain. The exhibition was on view from April 7 through May 11, 2014, at the Central Library in Copley Square, located at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and steps away from the original memorial.

Collecting the Future

How can museums use their collections, interpretations and traditions of encouraging debate to help people re-imagine and reshape their lives in a world profoundly altered by climate change?

In October of 2013, ObjectIDEA attended  Collecting the Future: Museums, Communities, and Climate Change, a workshop at the American Museum of Natural History In New York City. The workshop brought together curators, educators, historians, anthropologists and other scholars and practitioners from around the world to explore how museums can move beyond a singular focus on science education to address and integrate the physical, social, cultural and emotional dimensions of climate change. It provided a stimulating forum in which to explore how our institutions can contribute to building communities able to engage and respond to profound transformations of social and ecological systems around the globe.



Natural History AND Nature and Science

As part of a research trip with a current museum client and their architectural team, I recently had the pleasure of exploring a few of the newest natural history and nature and science museums. Our entourage of about 10 museum professionals acted as both visitors and guests; we explored the museums from the public side, and received organized, generous and informative back-of-house tours.

Exhibits at the Utah Museum of Natural History, are housed in elegant and evocative, “canyonesque” architecture, built into a hillside such that each of the museum’s floors engages the landscape outside. Exhibits are able to refer directly to views of the bench-like mountains that step up to the east of downtown Salt Lake City and fall away to the Great Salt Lake Basin to the west. Numerous portals invite visitors to step outside the galleries and appreciate fresh air, indigenous plantings, and the sounds and smells of nature. Rarely have I experienced a museum that acknowledges and incorporates its ecological, geological, and cultural context like this one does. 

The museum is on the campus of the University of Utah, and it showcases the strengths of this partnership in amazing ways: stunning collections, scientists in residence and in the field, and real projects in action on the exhibit floor. 

The permanent exhibits are punctuated by highly flexible venues: a weather terrace; a drop-in naturalist’s nook; and lab spaces that reference a cave and a geologist’s workroom. My initial criticism of the apparent expense and permanency of the highly integrated, architectural exhibits was quickly quelled when I discovered how these and other venues accommodate staffed programs, floor talks, nature walks, and impromptu demonstrations. The Utah Museum of Natural History has made the commitment to provide dynamism and flexibility through real people versus installations.

As much as the Utah Museum is about the “place,” Dallas’ newest museum, it seems, is about the “package.” In Dallas, the Perot Museum of Nature & Science, takes a more universal look at natural science, although the building, with its interesting escalator and LEED -certified status is (according to the museum’s website and map) its most important exhibit and its most advertised feature.

Housed within this intriguing architectural cube and set upon a near-5-acre site, the exhibitions are arranged on 6 levels. Each bears a distinct design look and feel. Unaffiliated with a university, the Perot is less focused on collections and less committed to its local natural history. It is therefore more free to expand its exhibition program to ideas as far as the origins of the universe and outer space to the inner workings of the human body – and nearly everything in between. A self-proclaimed family attraction, the museum offers playful exhibits like media-based “Soar Like a Bird” and “Race Against a Cheetah,” (my titles) and inventive tinkering spaces where groups and individuals can make remotely controlled vehicles and create digital art.

Visiting these museums – one after the other – made me really aware of the distinctions between a regional natural history museum and a general museum of nature and science. Where the Utah Museum of Natural History feels at home in its environmental context, the Perot feels like an invasive species. Where the Perot offers energetic play and creative simulation, Utah offers spaces for authentic encounter and contemplation.

One museum shouts the comprehensive story of the earth in loud colors; the other shares its indigenous story in soft tones.

Neither is bad...They’re just different.

The Invention of Glory

We closed 2012 by seeing a "once in a lifetime" installation:The Invention of Glory at the Peabody Essex Museum in our home village of Salem, Massachusetts. Monumental in scale and meticulous in construction, the Pastrana Tapestries are one of the finest examples of Gothic tapestry in existence. 

The four, 36-foot-long tapestries are on view together for the first time following an extensive restoration project. 

Interpretation of the tapestries is quite simple: a single panel (posted in two locations) is offered at each of four tapestry panels and "decodes" the scenes depicted in the works of art. Photographic reproductions of the tapestries with detail highlights (seen in the photo) invite visitors to seek and find interesting and relevant details. Adjacent walls address the making and restoration efforts through photos and video. 

Interpretation was refreshingly minimal and interesting, and directly interrogative. Early Renaissance music played ambiently and softly, setting a respectful tone.

Commissioned by Portugal's King Afonso V (1432-1481) and expertly woven in Belgium's Tournai workshops in the late 1400s, the Pastrana Tapestries are singular for their depiction of a contemporary subject: Afonso's military campaigns in North Africa. Through vibrantly colored wool and silk threads, a vivid scene of military pomp and conquest emerges — knights in full regalia raise their swords to the sky, royal trumpeters sound their advance, ships' masts punctuate the horizon and scenes of battle teem with valor and might. PEM is the exclusive Northeast venue forThe Invention of Glory

. The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Fundación Carlos de Amberes, Madrid, in association with the Embassy of Spain, the Spain-USA Foundation and the Embassy of Portugal, and with the cooperation of the Embassy of Belgium and the Embassy of Morocco in Washington, D.C., as well as the Diocese of Sigüenza-Guadalajara and Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Pastrana, Spain.