The Launch of “Deep Time”
After a four year, $125 million renovation, the infamous and highly anticipated Hall of Fossils – Deep Time at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (SI NMNH) re-opens its doors on June 8th, 2019.
As William Brangham reports for PBS NewsHour, this is the first major renovation of the famous fossil hall since its opening in 1911. To maintain and emphasize the building’s original structure, the design of the gallery was developed concurrently with the restoration of the heritage architecture. Pauline Dolovich, Principal at Reich&Petch and Lead Designer on the project, says “we found a way to tell this story through this chronological sweep and then also allow people to flow and live underneath the skylight.”
Deep Time offers lessons about connecting the present to the past and doesn’t shy away from addressing important issues in society today. “Our footprint today is written through the stories of the past” says Siobhan Starrs, Exhibition Developer/Project Manager at SI NMNH. Unlike virtually every paleontology exhibit, the Deep Time Hall explores climate change and the role humans play in affecting global change.
The Museum and team behind Deep Time hopes that having a greater understanding of the deep past will help visitors understand the role they play in determining the Earth’s future.
“We’re designing for literally every visitor that walks in the door” says Starrs, addressing the museum’s universal accessibility design. Multimedia and interactive displays, a mobile app, and games in the Deep Time Hall all share an inclusivity focus. “Here, visitors are encouraged to touch fossils – literally laying your hands on million year old specimens” says Brangham.
This inclusivity is also evident in the people who helped bring the hall to life. Not only did 50+ women help research, develop, and create the exhibition, but all of the project’s team leaders and writers are women. The museum says there are more women involved in Deep Time than any other exhibit in the institution’s history. Paleo-ecologist Kay Berinsmire, who heads the FossiLab at SI NMNH, says “having so many women working on an exhibit like this is important not just for her field, but for science more broadly.”
The gallery anticipates drawing over 50 million people during the next decade. It is the centerpiece of a hugely collaborative effort, comprising over 31,000 square feet of gallery space filled with 700 artifacts and fossils.
In its messaging goals, layers of information, visual density, tour de force presentation of fossils in animated poses, and sheer scope of artistry, R&P is honored to have led the design of one of the most ambitious exhibitions in the history of the Smithsonian.