Speed is the science museum’s largest permanent exhibition, and the second major initiative along the roadmap provided by Roto’s comprehensive exhibit master plan. Viewed from the broadest interdisciplinary lens, Speed captures visitors’ passion for fast-moving vehicles and phenomena, while also providing direct connections in topics as varied as telecommunications, human civilization, biological growth, human perception, and precision machines – anything where the rate of change matters, both fast and slow.
The science museum occupies a former historic train station, built in 1917 and designed by neoclassical architect John Russell Pope. Its long and narrow main concourse stretches more than 120 feet, flanked by a procession of high windows and capped with a vaulted plaster ceiling nearly 40 feet above the floor. Through Roto’s comprehensive visitor experience master plan (with Pfeiffer Partners and BCWH Architects), and under the visionary leadership of CEO Rich Conti, the decision was made to move the Museum’s authentic SR-71 Blackbird aircraft indoors, and suspend it from overhead cables inside this main concourse. It would become the icon of the Museum’s premiere science gallery, and the motivation for developing an exhibit around the interdisciplinary concept of Speed.
The presence of the plane overhead along with the historic nature of the facility limited the availability of normal exhibit gallery lighting. Therefore, Roto designed Speed to be almost entirely self-illuminated, with large, high resolution back-lit interpretive graphics, glowing controls on the interactive elements, and interior case lighting for the many objects and displays.
“When I think back to some of the key decisions I have made in my career, selecting Roto is at the top of the list.”- Rich Conti, Chief Wonder Officer, Science Museum of Virginia