Finalist 2022

Triceratops: Fate of the Dinosaurs

Museums Victoria

Triceratops: Fate of the Dinosaurs connects this unique Triceratops specimen to the wonder and fragility of life over time.

Museums Victoria redeveloped the Western Super Space at Melbourne Museum with the acquisition and display of a truly world-class and iconic object, the most complete Triceratops fossil in the world. Triceratops: fate of the dinosaurs is underpinned by the interconnected sub themes of the wonder and fragility of life, focusing on the amazing attributes of the Triceratops and its world while also connecting to a wider narrative of the web of life and interdependent ecosystems.

Design Brief:

The design team was tasked with redeveloping and transforming the Western Super Space Gallery at Melbourne Museum through the display of a world-class, iconic specimen within an immersive story environment. Comprising three acts, two levels and 605m2, this would be a dinosaur exhibition unlike any other.

The exhibition transports visitors through time and space. Featuring a fully immersive cretaceous forest, a giant, looming asteroid, and a fantastical party in the sky, a cohesive visual language that connected the narrative threads was critical for the visitor experience. The display of the specimen was another challenge and we sought to create a sophisticated and dramatic environment that provided optimal viewing opportunities and ability to get close to the specimen. Set within a cavernous gallery space, the design needed to evoke a sense of awe and reverence for the specimen while offering a sense of intimacy and moments of personal reflection for visitors.

This project was designed and commissioned by:

Design Process

The design process for Triceratops: fate of the dinosaurs was rigorous and collaborative with staff responding creatively to the challenges posed by Covid-19. Following the shaping of a story and experience brief, visual concepts for the physical interpretation of the experience were drafted for feedback, feasibility assessments and stakeholder approval. A developed design phase saw the designs progress in collaboration with our creative content partners and in-house fabricators. Finalisation and documentation of the designs was undertaken in consultation with fabricators and experts on matters of compliance and accessibility requirements.

Since the exhibition has an anticipated lifespan of around 10 years the designs were also reviewed with a view to durability and operational requirements. For quality assurance, prototypes of certain elements were fabricated for testing of materials and functionality. In addition, throughout the fabrication and installation process designers were onsite to ensure designs were finished to high standards expected. Over the course of design production our team worked with over 30 local creative industries, including stone masons, illustrators, glaziers, printers, upholsters, sound and lighting designers, carpenters and prop makers.

The diligence and commitment to excellence demonstrated by the design team has resulted in an exhibition experience that has amazed visitors. In an online survey of over 700 visitors, 92% rated the design as good or very good and a number of visitors commented that the display of the Triceratops is like a work of art. The colours, materials, lighting and atmospheric elements developed by our designers successfully evoked the connection we were striving for between the visitor and the specimen. As one visitor commented, ‘It's almost a spiritual experience -world-class.’

Design Excellence

Every design element of Triceratops: Fate of the Dinosaurs has been carefully crafted to heighten the experience for visitors as they engage with this significant fossil acquisition. This is not a traditional exhibition - access is via an immersive digital forest, taking visitors back in time to the world in which our Triceratops lived.

This space is designed with curiosity in mind - visitors’ movements trigger hidden details such as small mammals scurrying underfoot. It demonstrates the multimodal approach taken with the design to engage different senses at different times to encourage accessible engagement with the scientific content. This exemplifies design excellence through a pivot away from traditional exhibition delivery of static and didactic displays to a contemporary and sophisticated practice which has adapted and responded to the ways in which audiences take in information.

The design employs a holistic approach, with materials and visual motifs, such as silhouettes, repeated throughout the experience to connect the three distinct acts. The design of Act 3, a celebration of birds amongst a fantastical tree canopy in the sky, also gently echoes the forms of the cretaceous forest in Act 1, bringing the story full circle and visually illustrating to visitors the connections between past and present.

Holistic design is also demonstrated through the integration of the built form with the existing architecture and digital content. The design encompasses projections, lighting and sound, pushing boundaries in a totally integrated experience which works to elicit an emotional response from the visitor, and transforms a well-known part of the museum into something completely different. The exhibition design strikes the delicate balance between entertainment value, aesthetic wow factor and sparking curiosity and learning. In this way, it exemplifies Museum Victoria’s mission statement which is people enriched by wonderous discovery and trusted knowledge.

Design Innovation

Natural history exhibitions traditionally rely on mass display of objects to convey scientific reason. They’re often accompanied by long text labels written an institutional ‘voice’, presenting the museum as the expert. Triceratops: Fate of the Dinosaurs takes a radical approach. By focusing on a singular iconic object, audiences are invited to study every minute detail of this extraordinary specimen through a variety of lenses through which they learn about our past, present and future. Instead of traditional white gallery space, Triceratops sits under dramatic cinematic lighting which, combined with an 18 metre high chamber, generates a sense of awe.

Visitors are afforded a 360 degree opportunity to study the dinosaur from every angle. An accompanying emotive soundscape, works as a reminder that this skeleton was once a living, breathing creature. Illustrations and text are presented as backlit tactile forms that are highly legible. Text was engraved into actual rock forms, the material carefully chosen for its aptness to the topic as well as its endurance for this long-term exhibition.

Written content is conveyed from several different points of view, including a bird-voice that hints at what one lineage of dinosaur will evolve into. The fossil evidence is presented in the same way that a paleontologist might look for clues in a dig site, giving the visitor the opportunity to become the ‘expert’. Cutting-edge medical scanning and 3D-printed enabled every bone to be reproduced as a touchable object, allowing multi-sensory engagement and learning. All of this information has been provided freely as open-source to the public.

Design Impact

Triceratops: fate of the dinosaurs has been an overwhelming success. The positive response to the exhibition has seen visitation numbers to Melbourne Museum increase beyond pre-Covid levels and resulted in our highest ever membership subscription rate in the month of April once the exhibition was open to the public.

A key outcome for visitors in response to the exhibition is a connection to deep time. Audiences described feelings of fragility and humility, “It struck a cord with me. A combined sense of mystery and nostalgia. It gets you questioning peoples place on earth, through history.” Nearly 60% of visitors to the experience leave thinking about animals that are facing extinction today, aligning strongly with Museum Victoria’s commitment for a society compelled to act for a thriving future. The design excellence exemplified in this exhibition positions Museums Victoria as a cultural leader, collaborator and creative partner.

The exhibition has shifted public perception of the museum, with visitors commenting that it signals our position as a global player on the international stage. As one visitor observed, “I felt proud. It signals that it's a serious museum. It showed me showed your willingness to become a world class, competitive museum... The museum is evolving … it changes.” This iconic specimen, the most complete display of this dinosaur fossil anywhere on earth, will provide further reasons for local, intrastate, interstate and international audiences to engage with Museums Victoria and opportunity to promote the importance of design in crafting an unforgettable experience.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Triceratops: fate of the dinosaurs demonstrates sustainable design practice through the longevity of the experience as a ten-year plus feature of Melbourne Museum. Materials were selected for their durability to reduce waste over the duration of the exhibition lifespan. The ratio of built form and materials was also balanced with digital content to reduce material wastage.

The digital content is powered with sustainable energy through the museum’s solar panels – the largest solar array in the CBD.  The experience also supports messages of sustainability through the exhibition message, which is one of hope and inspiration: we are only here by chance, but it's not only chance that will determine our future. Your choices have power.

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