Come on…Cmom

Posted on Thursday 2 March 2006

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Today I visited the Children’s Museum of Manhattan for Frank Migliorelli’s “Interactive Design for Kids” class at ITP. It was snowing and cold so I was looking forward to getting inside a warm, fun environment and taking a critical look around.

The physical building affords plenty of space for manhattan but seems to lack a sense of wonder. The entry way is somewhat nondescript and plain. Other than the banner announcing the museum in front of the building CMOM missed the opportunity to tease exhibits and create excitement.

The building is four floors and feature five areas:
• Lower Level – Andy Warhol
• Ground floor – Alice in Wonderland
• Second Floor -Dora The Explorer
• Third Floor – Health/Body area, Time/Warner Media Center
• Fourth Floor – Story and Projects area

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On the ground floor the Alice in Wonderland area had some interesting pieces for kids to interact with. There was a globe and screen device that was a nice way for kids to explore geography. This type of thing might make a nice pcomp sort of project. The mechanism was worn out and not quite functioning but nice. Other sections of the AIW area were small putting greens with mechanisms for kids to drop in balls and watch them go over and around different obstacles. The one thing that was funny was a giant mushroom that had a sign to not climb on the mushroom, this seems odd but probably stems from our litigious society.

The age group of the museum seemed very young… probably toddler to 8 at the oldest, especially with Manhattan raised kids. The construction of elements in the museum was sturdy with plenty of opportunity for touching, playing and interacting with other kids.

The thing that struck me was a lack of vertical exploration or movement. Also the space seemed planned for hosing down as all the surfaces were hard and thickly painted. I would have liked to see some soft fabrics, rubber, foam or anything to cushion kids play.

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On the third floor there were two areas, a health/your body kind of area finance by Merk and a Time/Warner room. The photo above is a sort of photographers studio featuring the Wegman dogs and a chance to dress up and take your own photo. Some of my gripes with the museum in general is that it is showing it’s age. Nowhere was this more apparent than in an area that is suppose to be high tech. In the Wegman photo studio the final result is shown on a tiny screen bolted up on a wall far away from small kids. I can’t think of anything more anti-climactic than seeing the result in such an small way.

I am being a bit hard on what is a completely usable museum, especially for young children. What shows is the age of the museum and wear and tear. Also is a kind of design that is good but not great… It is apparent that alot of thought and effort went in to the museum and if my kids were still young I would pay to enter and they would have a good time at 4 or 5 years old.

If I were hired to evaluate and rethink the space I would think about a couple of things.
• Look at verticle space and make recommendations for extending graphics and exhibits higher, I know kids are short but they can look up.

• Look at exterior signage like the kinds of banners the MET, NHM and MOMA use to highlight exhibits.

• Work on video screens. Flat panel prices have come down, it is time to upgrade to larger than 17″. Also on the projection screen adjust lighting to not conflict with the projector. On the paint your own picture, add capture for creating a postcard of there visit.

• Except for LL, all of the floors are boxed off and small looking. I would work with architectural technics to create more of a feeling of space.

OK, so that’s it… if anyone in class has comments please add them below.


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