Smithsonian Institution: Hall of Fossils
Welcoming millions of people each year, the fossils in the Deep Time Hall are the most visited collections in the most visited museum in the world. Delivering a tour de force artistic design of densely-layered collections and information, R&P led the design for one of the most ambitious exhibitions in the history of the Smithsonian.
- Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
- David H. Koch Hall of Fossils — Deep Time
- 31,000 sq. ft.
- Exhibit Design, Graphic Design
- Washington D.C., USA
- Year Completed
The gallery anticipates drawing over 50 million people during the next decade. It is the centerpiece of a seven-year effort, comprising over 31,000 square feet of gallery space, 700 fossils and a project budget of $110 million dollars.
The gallery has a broad perspective, helping visitors learn from the past and understand global change over time. The exhibits integrate collections and knowledge from many departments of the museum, including Paleobiology, Mineral Sciences, Botany, Entomology, Vertebrate Zoology, Invertebrate Zoology, and Anthropology.
Unlike virtually every other palaeontology exhibit, The Hall illustrates how humans are a result of the forces of evolution, and how we are currently affecting global change and the Earth’s future. A major challenge of the project was working with the museum to translate and illustrate 3.7 billion years of biological history and global collections, within a 31,000 sf exhibit. The design of the gallery was developed concurrently with the restoration of the heritage architecture.
Reich&Petch had the honor of winning the public international competition to design Deep Time. Having created many other award-winning natural history exhibitions, R&P sought to advance a new perspective and design experience, engaging visitors in new ways by expressing relevant messages for today’s world. The gallery content is expansive and ambitious; including fossil collections that span more than half a billion years, with some of the most exquisitely preserved fossils on earth.
The narrative welcomes contemporary audiences to better understand the history of life on Earth using large charismatic fossil specimens, immersive environments, sculptures, miniature environmental models, videos and a circulation path that is a walk-through of the evolution of life on earth. It is a dense space teeming with the power of life, buoyed by the unrelenting forces of evolution.
The magnificent central space of the gallery was designed as an open thoroughfare for visitors to circulate and navigate the specimens. It is arranged as a rapid descent into deep time, starting from the recent past at the main entry at the Museum Rotunda.
Along the central spine of the gallery, 10 distinct areas illustrate different geological eras moving backwards in time (from Quaternary to Cretaceous to Jurassic, and so on). Fossil skeletons, plants and other organisms that lived in each era are highlighted. Models, murals, bronze casts and sculptures, interactive media, images, text and videos help visitors understand life in the ancient past. With over 6 million visitors per year, opportunities for visitor interaction had to be abundant and robust, and space needed to be generous.
The continuous flow of life and time is one of the most important concepts of the Hall, reinforced throughout the interpretive spaces with colorful, sculptural graphic installations, expressing key messages at each platform. At specific points, exhibits are disrupted by dramatic, sculptural Extinction Walls. The design expresses the central message: Life flows powerfully forward; dramatic extinctions disrupt and life re-sets– but is never the same.
The opportunity to create a new gallery for dinosaurs and fossils at the Smithsonian Institution only comes once every few generations. The historic hall, originally from 1911, has been entirely renovated. The exhibition, Deep Time, highlights 4.6 billion years of global change on Earth.
“After such a long process with so many people involved, it was actually better than I imagined it could be. This exhibit will stop people in their tracks.”
-Matt Currano, Curator of Dinosauria
Reich + Petch was responsible for overall art direction and creative direction. Yet the design expression celebrates the work of literally hundreds of artists, sculptors, filmmakers, writers, modelmakers, lighting designers, muralists, fabricators engineers, architects, acoustic consultants and many others. This team, along with the Smithsonian’s curators, scientists, technicians and artists uses skill and artistry to integrate complex messages and dense displays to create a gallery without parallel. The result is five galleries, across seven disciplines, including 700 specimens, and the integration of multimedia and intricate graphics. The vital process of peer review, script review and visitor evaluation ensured accuracy and scientific rigor. The content has shaped the design to such an extent that the design itself is a pure journey through the content; deep, thoughtful, hopeful, and beautiful.
- Dinosaurs roamed the planet for 165 million years… not since they died off have they ever looked so good.Tom Costello
NBC's Today Show