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Close Encounters: An Interactive Exploration of Personal Space at the National Building Museum Considering Methods of Visitor Engagement for Participatory and Immersive Exhibition Environments Open Access

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This thesis explores the use of the medium of exhibition design to convey aspects of personal space through a highly participatory, immersive and transformative experience. Located at the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, DC, the exhibition Close Encounters builds upon the institution’s Summer Block Party special exhibition series. The goal is to create a series of activities, culminating in a large-scale installation to instill visitors with a heightened awareness of their own personal space within the context of a shared, public environment. Though the exhibition can be enjoyed by visitors of all age groups, the target audience is teens and young adults (ages 15 to 25). During these formative and transitional years of testing boundaries, forming opinions, and newfound independence, this audience’s personal understanding of the world surrounding them is still developing. Thus, the series of experiences offered by this exhibition have the potential for a significant impact. The exhibition supports the NBM’s mission in encouraging and inspiring the next generation of design professionals by “[using] the built environment as a classroom for developing skills in critical and creative thinking, problem solving, analysis, evaluation, and teamwork.” With so much of daily communications funneled through remote devices, museums can offer a safe and supportive environment for the public to experiment, explore, and expand social experiences in real time. This proposal addresses a new challenge of visitor engagement before and after the central exhibition experience. Close Encounters will offer the opportunity for visitors to participate, activate, observe and share, thereby creating a lasting and memorable museum experience.

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