September 29, 2014

Where Ideas Blast Off: Situ Studio Reinvents New York Hall of Science

A full-fledged exploratorium, the New York Hall of Science occupies a rippling structure designed by Harrison & Abramovitz as a pavilion for the 1964 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The building’s lower level was much less impressive, however, a wide-open layout peppered with tabletop exhibits. A massive concrete column in the center was the sole spatial demarcation. “Kids zoomed through like pinballs,” Situ Studio partner Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherny notes.
Reinventing this 11,000-square-foot gallery as a hands-on learning hub, Lukyanov-Cherny envisioned what he refers to as a “town square.” It’s composed of five separate stations, thereby directing traffic to different activities.
Visitors descending the staircase from the lobby find themselves at the Sandbox, actually an island of sand-colored rubber-cork composite flooring in the surrounding sea of existing gray carpet tile. Future architects and engineers hunker down in the Sandbox to build structures from wooden dowels and rubber bands, as parents observe from perimeter benches that also incorporate storage. They’re built from maple-veneered plywood, as is a reading nook tucked below the stairs. 
In the center of the action, constructed around that massive column, stands the Tree House, with its arklike slatted form. Tinkering with LEDs and small electrical circuits happens in the adjacent Studio, enclosed by furniture-grade Baltic birch plywood cut into triangles and trap-ezoids. Maker Space demystifies prototyping tools and processes. For performance-related projects, Backstage comes complete with overhead rigs and rolling screens.
Lukyanov-Cherny worked hard to maximize the square footage of each station while ensuring the shortest routes of emergency egress. “The floor plan took some massaging. We were counting inches,” he says.
Fabricating and preassembling all the components at the Brooklyn Navy Yard allowed refinements to be made. “Not even complex computer modeling will tell you how materials will behave in a one-off project like this,” Lukyanov-Cherny says. He has observed a parallel between how Situ’s designs evolve through experimen-tation and how problem-solving occurs at the Hall of Science: “These kids could eventually put us out of business.”

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