AD: What is your design philosophy and how do you go about achieving it?
Barton: Humility, openness, and really listening to our clients form the core of our design philosophy. We remove our egos and personal tastes from the equation in order to design work that’s totally focused around a client’s needs and their aspirations for a visitor experience. The name of our firm reflects that philosophy as well. Local Projects came from an old quote from former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, “all politics is local.” For us, all design is local, meaning that we pride ourselves on not having a particular style or solution we foist on clients. Instead, we keep designs for every project “local,” adapting our work to each specific audience and organization.
AD: What interested you and your team most about the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center Project?
Barton: I think a big reason for America’s current political divisions is the fracturing of our media landscape, meaning that not everyone is working from the same set of facts, making it impossible to have any shared understanding of our history, present, and future. Creating mutual understanding among diverse audiences has always been a focus for the studio from our work on the 9/11 Memorial Museum to our more recent work at The Legacy Museum.
From the very first briefing we received about the project, we could tell that the goals for the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center were in part to combat that effect by embracing people of all religious persuasions, and to include them in a mutual understanding of America’s founding. This includes offering a full history of how the Bible has been used throughout U.S. history – mostly for good, but also to justify policies like racial segregation. By acknowledging all sides of the story, the FLDC will ultimately widen its audience and open more visitors to the idea of engaging more deeply with the Bible.
AD: Were there some ‘aha!’ moments in the design process? Can you describe a few?
Barton: “Let there be light” was used as an inspiration for the Lamp as well as a design throughline, appearing as a guiding line of light on wall layouts and in media programs. Another moment was Local Project’s exploration of the words that appear in the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. Six words that appear in these documents as universal values were selected to become the gallery names (Faith, Liberty, Justice, Hope, Unity, Love) that became anchors to guide visitors through the Center.
AD: What are some of the most striking and symbolic features of the design effort, and how do they tie into the Discovery Center’s mission?
Barton: The twisting, circular sculpture that emerges from the ground floor of the museum will serve as an iconic structure representing the museum’s core values of faith, liberty, and justice. It is also, for us, the fulfillment of our integrated approach to exhibit design. The sculpture resembles the personal device every visitor will receive at the beginning of their journey through the museum, called simply the Lamp. Visitors can use it to save information or to interact with exhibits. By incorporating aspects of the visitor journey into the very fabric of the museum, the Discovery Center is paving the way for future institutions.
AD: What was your approach to finding the right technology/media to tell the stories of the exhibits in order to achieve the intended impact?
Barton: Finding the appropriate mix of technology and media is always one of our biggest challenges and opportunities. We aren’t necessarily drawn to the flashiest emerging technologies, and never implement technology in a museum for its own sake. Instead, we interpret experiences in a way visitors find both meaningful and relevant. As technology evolves, the experience must be able to withstand and endure these changes. Technology changes, stories endure.
AD: Forbes Magazine recently did an article featuring Local Projects: “How Local Projects Creates The Museums of The Future: 10 Unforgettable Global Experiences”. In what way is the Center a museum of the future?
Barton: The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center will be a rare institution in Philadelphia and in the country. Instead of a linear approach to historic storytelling, the visitor will be given multiple opportunities to engage with the content and to ponder their personal connection to the values of Faith, Liberty, Justice, Hope, Unity, Love. LP always looks to maximize the visitor experience, and we use media to wow the audience and to both look inside themselves and connect to other visitors who happen to be sharing the same space with them.
AD: What part of this historic effort are you most proud of?
Barton: The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center is a project that not only looks back at American history but looks to engage with visitors in a unique, modern way. It’s an honor to collaborate with the Discovery Center as they work towards future goals and successes in the 21st century.
AD: Of all the exhibits, which one is your favorite? Why?
Barton: The story of William Penn told in the final Love gallery is a personal favorite of mine. Like Penn, I was raised a Quaker, so his story strikes a personal note for me. This gallery is also where each visitor’s lamp can be used with its most dramatic effect. As each visitor holds their lamp up to the walls of the gallery, they’ll reveal different aspects of the story of Philadelphia’s founding, eventually “building” the city together through shared exploration.
AD: What are your hopes and dreams for future visitors to the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center?
Barton: We hope that visitors use the Discovery Center as a place to educate themselves, connect with each other, and rediscover the shared values that can bring all Americans together.