Engaging modern audiences in the stories of America's conservation legacy

National Conservation Legacy Center

Concept design for the National Conservation Legacy Center.

Creating a progressive, immersive and participatory museum that preserves and shares the history of America's conservation legacy and the U.S. Forest Service has long been a goal for the National Museum of Forest Service History. The only way forward was with forward-thinking architects and experiential design and technology experts. 

Step forward Art Processors and Leers Weinzapfel Associates, an architecture firm as passionate as us about environmental sustainability. We are collaborating to marry our disciplines, resulting in a design celebrating the history of people and America’s remarkable forests and grasslands. 

Together with the team at the National Museum of Forest Service History, we’ve designed the architectural and exhibition concepts for an incredible participatory museum now close to being fully fundraised. 

The project is currently in the exhibition design phase, with construction anticipated to begin in the Northern Hemisphere spring of 2023 and the official launch in the spring of 2024. Presently, 80% of fundraising has currently been identified. 

Concept design for the National Conservation Legacy Center.

Challenge

Provide perspective: Our first challenge was to convey the real story of America's conservation legacy so that people can draw their own conclusions. Lisa Tate, Executive Director at the National Museum of Forest Service History, explains the mission: “So much of conservation history in the US is controversial or misunderstood because people have only heard one side of the story… By sharing all sides of issues, we hope to create a better understanding of the complex decisions made in America’s conservation history.” 

Demonstrate innovation: When it was set up 120 years ago, the U.S. Forest Service was revolutionary. The notion of preserving land for the public was unique and paved the way for other environmental initiatives and institutions, such as the National Park Service. The design of the building and exhibitions at the museum need to reflect the service’s innovative foundations. 

Connect with audiences: Balanced with this cutting-edge approach is the requirement to share complex, multifaceted information in a way that connects with two divergent key audiences – the very knowledgeable current and former members of the Forest Service, and multi-generational families. “This was one of the reasons we chose to work with Art Processors,” says Lisa. “We knew it was going to be difficult to find ways to develop content and unique experiences catering to both audiences. We want people to not just be amazed at the beauty and the technology but also take away information and understanding.”

Bring the outside in and inside out: Our final challenge is also a huge opportunity. The center is situated in a beautiful location, between the Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. The 31 acres outside is as important as the inside, so we needed to find a way to create a cohesive experience. We also want to attract the captive audience traveling between these two tourist hotspots as they are people with a clear interest in the environment and conservation.  

National Conservation Legacy Center mock-up design
Render of the new National Museum of Forest Service History showing a group of people standing around an interactive touch screen

Approach

Brought in at the pre-concept stage, Art Processors collaborated closely with the architects to consider how the building could best serve the visitor experience. We ensured that the architectural environment plays a role in the storytelling as opposed to the building just being a vessel for the story. 

We considered issues such as where to place retail space and elevators, and at what point to invite visitors onto the roof level. Our consultation contributed to decisions big and small – from the appearance of the lobby’s columns and canopies to where to locate the gift shop in order to fully immerse visitors. 

To set the exhibit design on the right track, we brought together museum staff and a core group of stakeholders to run sessions aligning everyone around a North Star. What did everyone want to achieve and how would we get there? We discussed where they all saw the center on numerous scales, for instance from being more playful to more serious, contemporary or conservative. We identified the key audiences and how to tell the stories that would help them develop a deeper understanding of the nation’s conservation history.

Concept design for the National Conservation Legacy Center.

We find the lived experiences of the thousands of people who served in the U.S. Forest Service and their many partners a fascinating and compelling way to frame the conversation. By celebrating their work, we can usher in the next generation of problem solvers and dreamers. Art Processors is proud to be partnering with the museum to find innovative and exciting ways to tell these stories.

– Tony Holzner,
   Co-founder and Chief Creative Director, Art Processors

The North Wall is an 80 feet wide by 20 feet tall video projection – a giant digital canvas that acts both as a backdrop for the entire inside of the building. It’s also a part of the experience as visitors trigger content on it as they make discoveries. At opening, the wall will feature an immersive film and object-theater experience using photographs, motion graphics, projection mapping, music, sound, and narration.

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Concept design for the National Conservation Legacy Center.

Solution

A visit to the National Conservation Legacy Center will be an experience unlike any other in the U.S.. The building itself begins the story, and then seamlessly transitions into the world-class interactive exhibition. Shared components and finishes, evocative virtual language, and digital interactives build a cohesive and tactile sequence across the exhibition and extend beyond the gallery into all visitor areas. Viewing windows, tree-like pillars, a roof terrace, and tower all further break down the divide between inside and out. 

The cutting-edge technology is integrated subtly so that it doesn’t distract from special moments, for instance, where possible, visitors’ presence activates information and music rather than buttons. 

Throughout the exhibition, stories of the service and conservation history are told emotively through interactives, videos, graphic backdrops, and set design – such as a ski lift and vintage camper with relevant videos embedded within. 

First-person accounts from people who are hands-on involved in conservation, like forest products partners and cattlemen, are key to ensuring that information is shared with heart, and resonates with diverse audiences. 

Concept design for the National Conservation Legacy Center.