step into a dream

Kids mu­seum of­fers climb into clouds

Edmonton Sun - - TRAVEL - Christina BAR­RON

WASHINGTON — Na­tional Chil­dren’s Mu­seum of­fi­cials aim for their fa­cil­ity in down­town D.C. to be a re­al­ity next spring, but they’re hop­ing kids will think that vis­it­ing is like step­ping into a dream.

“We wanted to cre­ate magic from the first mo­ment of en­try, and the clim­ber and slide pro­vide that sense of fun and ad­ven­ture to trans­port into a dream­like world,” said Crys­tal Bowyer, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Chil­dren’s Mu­seum. The mu­seum is start­ing over af­ter it closed its space in Jan­uary 2015 at Na­tional Har­bor in Oxon Hill, Mary­land.

The clim­ber and slide Bowyer is talk­ing about are part of the Dream Ma­chine, a 50-foot round struc­ture that will be at the cen­tre of the mu­seum, which is un­der con­struc­tion in the Ron­ald Rea­gan Build­ing, near the Mall.

It will fea­ture net­ting, ropes, two slides, mo­biles and balls, some large enough to climb in­side.

“I think the im­pres­sion will be, ‘Oh, look at that cool thing. Oh, there’s peo­ple in it. How do I get in?’” said Ron Davis from Gy­ro­scope, the com­pany that de­signed the Dream Ma­chine.

Davis, the project’s lead de­signer, said clouds were a big in­spi­ra­tion for the struc­ture. He and two co-work­ers looked on Pin­ter­est for ideas of how they could turn the idea of clouds dis­si­pat­ing, or break­ing up, into some­thing to climb on.

They came up with stacked balls, many of which will be glossy white on the out­side. Some will have a fin­ish like a mir­ror. Some will move. Net­ting that is translu­cent, or lets light through, will al­low vis­i­tors to climb in and around the balls.

“As you look up, the sort of twist­ing cloudy form will con­tinue,” Davis said.

A slide was a “must-have” part of the Dream Ma­chine, he said. A ride down the metal tube will take vis­i­tors from the main level to the lower level in a long curve.

“If you come down this slide, it’s like com­ing through a black hole,” he said.

That idea might be scary for some kids, so there will also be a smaller slide as a “starter ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Some vis­i­tors may fo­cus on the slide, but oth­ers might be at­tracted to the ropes and net­ting, Davis said.

“There are some peo­ple who will say, ‘My first chal­lenge is go­ing to be to get to the top,’” he said. “Ev­ery­one’s got a dif­fer­ent take on it.”

Davis and his two fel­low de­sign­ers didn’t want that task to be too easy.

“The higher up you go, the most chal­leng­ing it is,” he said.

And al­though the de­sign­ers wanted to make the Dream Ma­chine chal­leng­ing and fun, they also had to make it safe and fit in­side the mu­seum’s cir­cu­lar stairs. That sounds like a tough as­sign­ment, but it wasn’t the first time Gy­ro­scope has cre­ated a climb­ing struc­ture. That’s why the chil­dren’s mu­seum chose the


“The Gy­ro­scope team are some of the best ex­hibit de­sign­ers in the world,” Bowyer said. “They spe­cial­ize in chil­dren’s museums and science cen­tres, and since we are com­bin­ing these two plat­forms, they were the per­fect choice.”

If you travel around the coun­try, you might see other ex­am­ples of the de­sign firm’s work. One is at the Min­nesota Chil­dren’s Mu­seum in St. Paul.

Last year, the mu­seum opened an ad­di­tion that in­cluded a four-story clim­ber called the Scram­ble. It in­cludes a net­ted cat­walk 40 feet in the air and a spi­ral metal slide.

“The slide is def­i­nitely the high­light,” said Kirstin Niel­son, se­nior ex­pe­ri­ence de­vel­op­ment man­ager at the mu­seum. “You see a lot of kids do a cir­cuit. You get up to the slide as fast as pos­si­ble, go down and run back up.”

Niel­son said the Scram­ble gives vis­i­tors a chance to move and prob­lem-solve with their bod­ies. It has been pop­u­lar with kids as young as two and much older vis­i­tors.

“We do see a lot of adults scram­bling through the thing,” Niel­son said with a laugh.

Gy­ro­scope wanted to ac­com­mo­date young and old in the Dream Ma­chine, too. And the abil­ity to climb won’t be re­quired to en­joy it.

“There’s some op­por­tu­nity to roll out in a wheel­chair ... as though you climbed all the way up,” Davis said.

He promised that there would be sound and light as part of the Dream Ma­chine ex­pe­ri­ence and hinted that there would be more to dis­cover as kids climbed in and up. “We are go­ing to have lit­tle de­tails that are sub­tle but will bring joy and sur­prise.”

We wanted to cre­ate magic from the first mo­ment of en­try...”

crys­tal bowyer, pres­i­dent of Na­tional chil­dren’s Mu­seum


A pre­view of what the Dream Ma­chine at the Na­tional Chil­dren’s Mu­seum in Washington, D.C., will look like.

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