Natural History Museum of LA: Mammals Gallery
The Age of Mammals was the inaugural gallery of the newly renovated LA Museum. A modern, light-filled fossil mammals exhibition, it showcases how evolution responds to changes in climate and ecosystems.
- Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
- Age of Mammals Gallery
- 13,160 sq. ft.
- Exhibit Design, Graphic Design
- Los Angeles, CA, USA
- Year Completed
The Age of Mammals Gallery was the first gallery developed as part of the LA Natural History Museum’s renewal project, a complete restoration of the original 1913 Beaux Arts museum building,. There were three major design goals for the exhibits. First, exhibits and specimens needed to complement and respect the restored architecture and multi-level interiors of the heritage museum space; second, the design had to extensively showcase the Museum’s stunning collections and express relevant messages and third, visitors should be able to enjoy the collection and the space from many vantage points. R&P was challenged to create a contemporary forward-facing gallery while respecting the historically vital character of the space. The rarity of the heritage architecture of this vintage in Los Angeles became a prime asset in the design expression.
The new vision for the gallery was achieved with an open, free-flowing design. It utilized glass as a display medium, mirroring the flood of light through the nearby heritage windows and allowing for uninterrupted views of the spectacular fossil specimens. The design team needed to address the major challenge of developing an exhibit that would work in a space filled with ever-changing natural light. Embracing this element, they incorporated the primary design principals of light, layering, and transparency.
Materials that referenced the historic architecture were selected and used in conjunction with a contemporary but timeless design vocabulary. Each thematic section of the exhibit was designed as an integrated unit, with diverse stone platforms and graphic treatments for each theme.
Specimens were thoughtfully placed to tell a broader story. For example, in an introductory section entitled, “What is a Mammal?,” a cheetah skeleton is displayed in the same running pose as a taxidermy cheetah, reinforcing that all the fossils skeletons on display were once living mammals.
Throughout the galleries, mechanical interactive installations give visitors a hands-on opportunity to explore the content. Strategically-placed interactive media terminals allow visitors to explore key themes more deeply while providing children with screen-based opportunities for engagement.
The gallery was immediately greeted with enthusiastic press, who declared that the new design direction was “A giant step forward for the 97-year old institution in the process of re-inventing itself. The sweeping exhibition is an airy light-filled classical structure that suddenly seems contemporary.”
- A giant step for a 97-year-old institution in the process of reinventing itself. The sweeping exhibition...is an airy, light-filled, classical structure that suddenly seems contemporary.The Los Angeles Times
July 4th, 2010
R&P brought a fresh perspective and forward-thinking design sensibility to the many challenges of the project. As the first gallery to be redesigned as part of the Museum’s sweeping revitalization, R&P worked to bring a new vision to the collections. Under the Director’s leadership, our approach to the display and the expression of the overarching messages informed the work of the curatorial team. We distilled a bold message into a simple statement: “Continents move. Climates change. Mammals evolve.” The resulting clarity of the message combined with the expression of the design helped earn the project and the museum accolades from the American Alliance of Museums’ the coveted Excellence in Exhibitions Award.
As the first major new exhibition project for the LA Museum renewal, R&P tailored the design approach and process to suit a highly involved senior leadership team. This large gallery project involved an extensive meeting and presentation schedule, including the continuous involvement of the director and the board throughout the three-year process. At each stage, the project embraced involvement of the museum board, senior leadership, senior staff, the project management team, architects, engineers, and curators.