Monday, November 24, 2008

Our Exhibit is On Its Way
After many years of waiting, the development of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's new clouded leopard exhibit, Cats of the Canopy, is finally underway! The Zoo has selected John Swanson Design Studio of Seattle as the architects for the project and they have assembled a great team to design both the exhibit structure and accompanying interpretive messaging. Today was devoted primarily to discussion of the overall purpose, goals, and main ideas of the new exhibit.

Led by Carly Mendelssohn, the team began with a lively discussion as we determined the "Big Idea" for the exhibit - in other words, what we want our visitors' take away message to be. This idea will form the basis for the interpretive plan of the exhibit that will be carried out through the exhibit graphics and interactive elements. In addition to the discussion of messaging content, we also examined the overall look and feel of the exhibit. To help the team come to a consensus on this, we underwent an exercise where each person provided input on a sliding scale of possible graphics content and components such as the amount of text, use of interactives, layering of messaging, and sense of place.

We also discussed specific ideas for elements of the exhibit that would support our messaging plan. These included everything from placement of exhibit "furniture" (branches, heaters, etc.) for optimal visitor viewing to interpretive elements such as interactive devices to demonstrate the clouded leopard's vocalizations or climbing skills. This is the fun phase, when we can just throw ideas out there regardless of cost! Ultimately, our grand plans always end up scaled back somewhat (or a whole lot!) In the case of this exhibit, we have submitted a grant application that would provide additional funds beyond our current budget to enhance the interpretive graphics. So if that comes through, we might get to implement some of our fun ideas!

Finally, the last hour of the meeting was our first peek at very rough sketches from the design team. We have some significant slope issues with our site so that strongly drives the exhibit design. We also have a major emphasis on the "back of house" areas that will be so crucial for this exhibit to fulfill its role as a clouded leopard breeding facility. John presented three different sketches for us to evaluate. We told him what we thought worked and what didn't, and now he'll go back and revise the sketches. This will be an ongoing process until we have it just right!

As I said before, this whole project is completely dependant on our budget and until we get some rough cost estimates we won't really know what we can actually afford. Hopefully we will be able to get most of what we want! Our ultimate goal is to have an exhibit that is great for seeing the amazing beauty and grace of our clouded leopards, tells the story of clouded leopard conservation and inspires visitors to help protect them, and provides a safe and comfortable home for our cats where we can develop a successful breeding program. I am confident that our great team can work together to make that all happen.


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