Cocoon

The Darwin Centre at London's Natural History Museum (photo by Tim Lee)

The Darwin Centre at London Natural History Museum (photo by Tim Lee)

One of the newest and most anticipated installations in the world of Natural History is the London Natural History Museum’s Darwin Centre 2. This iconic facility opened a month ago and a few friends have since visited and reported back to me. The Cocoon – a large egg shaped structure inside a glass box and provocatively nestled up against the Victorian-Era museum building – contains 20 million insect and plant specimens as well as 220 working scientists. One of the overarching goals of the project is to make the museum’s collections and research accessible to museum visitors. This is a general trend as museums of all types seek to engage more sophisticated audiences by providing access to previously hidden away: study collections, research, registration and conservation. Darwin Centre 1, which as a sort of modest prototype for this project built a few years ago (and which I did visit), used curators as docents that took you on behind the scenes tours of collections areas as they talked about their work. You felt privileged to have access to their world and though it still had carefully controlled set of windows, you saw a lot of real stuff. I suppose a day long program of tours was a lot to ask of the curator whos’ minds should really be on research and not entertaining the public.  Darwin Centre 2 seems to dispense with the warm, human (albeit scripted) interactions. Here a set of digitized curator avatars introduce the audience to the research and the experience is focused mostly on a series of interactive media experiences that allow visitors to explore both real and digitized versions of collections, interact and provide feedback on a range of current scientific debates. I kind of like the mix of real stuff and high tech interactive interfaces, but word is that the human touch and the awesome spectacle of millions of specimens is missing here. I think this is a great model for existing museums to leverage what they already have going on behind the scenes and deliver a public view into the authentic, mysterious, museological, inner-sanctum. However, the walls of this cocoon may be still too opaque.

Another review with descriptions and images of a few exhibits here and the official video tour here and another video here.

Tim Ventimiglia

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2 responses to “Cocoon

  1. This has a striking resemblance to the planitarium, architecturally speaking. I think this is an interesting way to use architecture to help explain the exhibition held within. Such architecture seems to be a more perferable alternative to the Guggenheim Effect that we have discussed on this blog and in class.

  2. I think Tim is right when he says that this new museum experience is lacking the human touch. Technologically speaking this experience should be great but where did the museum forget the human interaction? The experience of talking with the curators themselves, listening to their experiences and getting feedback from them is not the same that getting information from an automatic machine. Interacting with a machine doesn’t make you feel special while I can imagine that talking with the curators and looking at the collections behind the scenes should be a great experience that really makes visitors feel like their part of the museum. I wonder again is technology going to replace human interaction?

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