David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins

In spring 2010, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History opened the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins - a new 1,394 sq. m. gallery to present the evidence of human evolution spanning 5 million years.

The challenge of the project was to display fragmentary fossil evidence and scientific information in a manner that would connect with visitors emotively and personally. The design solution was to imbed the complex content within key features: ‘time travel’ portals, sweeping display walls with monumental icons, richly layered graphics, and a significant quantity of customized artwork to ‘humanize’ the science.

The L-shaped gallery provides a bi-directional space anchored at one end by a ‘time tunnel’ showing extinct human species, and an amphitheatre at the other end presenting our own surviving species - Homo sapiens. In between, visitors encounter life-size sculptures of ancient ancestors, milestone characteristics that define humans, interactive media rooms that show snapshots in time, and fossils displayed among illustrations and interactives. The finishes of the gallery are reminiscent of the rich colors and textured layers found at archaeological sites in Africa.

 

To keep up with new discoveries, exhibits are designed to be changeable. Back-access spaces, large walk-in cases, and modular display units allow the museum to modify their exhibits with minimal interruption to the daily flow of visitors.

The designers worked with museum staff, writers, scientists, educators, and audience evaluators to create the visitor experience. This integrative approach produced a memorable gallery where scientific analysis is well balanced with storytelling. 

 

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