I grew up in Schenectady and as a kid one of my favorite Electric City excursions was a trip to the science museum and, even better, the planetarium it contained. I have fond memories of snuggling into the reclining planetarium chairs and watching as stars, planets and constellations were pointed out, visiting the museum’s optical illusion exhibit and trying, often in vain, to see the old woman within what looked to me like simply a picture of a young woman. Touching the Van de Graafe generator that made my hair stand on end was another classic museum experience.
After nearly two decades, I visited the museum — now called miSci — again last week and it’s grown up a lot. miSci features even more interactive, hands-on exhibits and some very cool artifacts highlighting Schenectady’s history in technological innovation.
Also on display, now through mid-November, is the work of a group of second-year students in Rensselaer’s School of Architecture who were tasked with creating conceptual designs for a grown-up and re-imagined miSci.
The students did the work last year and it was the third part of the Capital Region Collaborative Initiative, a series of projects that asked students to reimagine Capital Region museums masterminded by Architecture Dean Evan Douglis. The first two projects involved the Shaker Museum & Library and The Hyde Collection. (Read and see much more on the Shaker project here.)
For the miSci project, the students were asked to consider the limitations of the museum’s current location — on a hill, set back and not visible from the street — when crafting their designs.
The designs they came up with — 20 of which were made into 3-D models and are on display in cases at the museum — are striking.
David Pelcher (his design is directly above) said he focused on giving the museum visibility from the main road, Nott Terrace, that goes by it and also creating different paths museum visitors could travel within the space. “What you like (to see) defines your route through the building,” he said. His design is also intended to offer visitors a chance to change between routes.
The roof swoops and dips and he envisions it being made of a reflective material that would allow would-be visitors to see the museum from the road below.
Architecture Professor Gustavo Crembil said the course is valuable to students because it offers them a chance to simulate the relationship an architect has with a client. They learn to explain their design ambition to a client — in this case, representatives of the museum — and negotiate with the client to, hopefully, reach a design concept that meets their needs and is based on sound design principles.
Kelsey Kish, another student whose work is displayed at the museum (and in the picture below), said the course built on her first year of study in SOA, in which students learn to think like an architect. Students do hands-on work with the programs they’ll need to master for their field.
“The second-year design studio is a pivotal moment in the education of an architect. This is their first experience designing a building, so it’s quite a monumental passage for our students,” Crembil said.