Museums | Exhibits | Facilities |

Cyrus Tang Hall of China

The Field Museum | Chicago,IL | 2011

The Field Museum combined and reinterpreted their collection of Chinese artifacts in a new 9,000 SF ethnographic exhibit of the world’s most populous country.

What it Was

With the China Halls having been split up and in bad disrepair, the Field Museum decided to combine their collection and reinterpret the story behind the artifacts. The museum dedicated 9,000 SF to the new ethnographic exhibit of the world’s most populous country.

What We Did

We used lighting as a way to give drama to the more than 350 artifacts in the exhibit. A surround theater, filled with artifacts and dioramas, has 20 screens surrounding the hall with an interactive map in the center. Lighting on the map highlights certain locations with corresponding images on the screens. Under the screens are artifact and graphics, all backlit. Our challenge became ensuring each object - even the most light-sensitive - was properly lit. As a result, the case lighting is controllable with sensors that can turn the lighting for sensitive objects on and off as visitors approach, carefully preserving them. For example, the scrolls exhibit has an interactive component, where the scrolls can only be viewed with lights for 30 seconds. These complex lighting controls had to understand visitor demand, as to not shut off while people are viewing the artifacts. Lighting was also used for both large-scale graphics above the cases and those that highlight Chinese texts and drawings. Numerous textiles and books are also included in the exhibit. Also part of the project was a dramatically lit puppet theater with display, featuring a two-sided screen that shows the shadow puppet performance on one side and the actual actors on the other. Our lighting design clearly shows seating and makes wayfinding easy by directing visitors to the back stage area. With a complete shift in lighting strategy, tea gardens at the end of the exhibit incorporate windows and natural daylighting. The space includes dramatically lit spirit stones and a wall with a color and mood changing water effect. While this is a contemplative space, it is also used for events by the museum.

Why It Worked

In 2016, the Field Museum hosted the “Terra Cotta Warriors” - a traveling exhibit of the infamous ancient clay figures. The new Cyrus Tang exhibit space served as a much richer context for the exhibit, and gave visitors the authentic feeling of being in the Forbidden City itself. With clear signage, interactive digital displays and videos, and creative lighting, visitors spanned distance and time to learn about one of the world’s most fascinating countries and its artifacts.