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Inside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

In museum AV, when you integrate technology into exhibits, it becomes part of the story, rather than an object on which the story is told. Here's why that's important to remember.


Raymond Kent

It all starts with a thing. it could be an object, such as a book or a piece of clothing. It could be a sound, such as a voice recording or a music track. Each has a story to tell. The depth at which that story is communicated to the masses differs depending on several factors, including the medium. Museums, theme parks, and even corporations struggle with storytelling, which can be imperative to their success.

In today's technology-driven world, these organizations have new tools at their disposal to help in their storytelling—video, audio, show control, virtual reality. These tools can take a museum patron, for instance, to places that bring a story to life. Today, someone can not only look at a dinosaur bone at a Smithsonian Museum, but also enter a world complete with the sounds and smells of the Jurassic period. It's the job of the design team, working with the storytellers, to communicate that vision.

Recently, I had the pleasure of being the lead AV, lighting, and show control designer on one of America's iconic museums—the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio—as it examined and refined how it told its own stories. Over the years, the massive I.M. Pei–designed structure, which opened almost 16 years ago, presented challenges in terms of how the museum staff could exhibit its collection of artifacts, particularly given its large glazed lobby. In addition, the museum staff discovered that wayfinding was a major concern. Many patrons, it turned out, hadn't realized that the building was both a hall of fame and a museum under the same roof. People could miss entire sections of artifacts in Ertegun Hall, for example, where the majority of the collection is displayed, due to poor wayfinding and lighting.

These problems were made worse by the building's outdated audiovisual, lighting, and presentation technology, most of which was original to the building. Terry Stewart, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his staff decided it was time for an update. "It's fairly simple," Stewart said about the project. "We try to make sure that the music and the detritus around how music is created—whether they're instruments, costumes, or lyrics—are preserved and exhibited here. A great deal of what the renovation is about is reacting to what we've learned about the building during the last 16 years."

Architecture firm Westlake Reed Leskosky was added to the team based on its experience as a practice leader in performing and cultural arts. (And it helped that the firm is headquartered just blocks from the Rock Hall.) The team, led by managing principal Paul Westlake, FAIA, and project director Josh Haney, AIA, was guided by the Rock Hall's mission statement, which basically spells out that it sees itself not only as a source of entertainment, but also one of education. We had to keep this mission in mind when we evaluated how best to accomplish the Rock Hall's goals within its $5.5 million budget.

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