Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Whats behind the door?

Children explore the Section of Mystery, a custom interactive experience for Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Source: CMNH.

Caroline Record, Introducing the Section of Mystery, Studio, 1 June 2016

Part of the Innovation Studio’s mission is to craft delightful museum experiences that playfully engage museum visitors with the collection. The Section of Mystery is a custom interactive experience for Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) that connects visitors to a diverse set of specimen from the collection.

The interactive centers around one of the museum’s most notable and famous architectural features, a half-size wooden door in the Hall of Birds. The door now reads “Section of Mystery” in gold lettering across the front and constantly has mysterious animal noises emanating from within. Every time a museum visitor follows their curiosity and opens the door they are not disappointed by a lock or a maintenance closet. The space within illuminates and reveals a drifting hologram of a chirping or roaring specimen from the collection. The door hides dozens of animals, including a whale, various owls, and a Cape Buffalo, any one of which might emerge each time the door is opened.

Process

Creating the Section of Mystery spanned multiple disciplines and museum departments. The actual effort required expertise and guidance from the education and exhibits teams at CMNH, as well as the skilled craftsmanship of our Facilities Planning & Operation department. As the principle person responsible for this project, I played a hilariously wide array of roles including designer, 3D modeler, sound designer, programmer, and seamstress. Broadly, the project had four phases: design, programming, media collection, and fabrication.

When the Innovation Studio embarked on the design process we wanted to work with the natural curiosity that already surrounds the door. When I was working inside, there was an ongoing stream of tugging, knocking, and exclaiming over it. Pittsburghers who grew up going to the museum have seen it throughout their lives and wondered what might be behind it. Children are magnetically drawn to it.

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