“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Linus Pauling
The projects shown here are those that broke new ground, for us as planners and designers and for our clients as leaders in the field. No two projects, or clients, are alike. Innovative thinking is what they have in common.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
The innovation for an all-new museum exhibition in a landmark presidential library was our design approach: develop an experience that lets visitors directly connect with Kennedy in the same way Americans did during his lifetime. The core concept is to immerse visitors in context-setting period environments in which they experience the televised words and images that ushered in a new era of politics—one in which JFK, as the first practitioner of the new medium, set a very high bar for inspirational leadership.
For this approach to be effective, we determined that all media presentations needed to be designed in present tense, cut from period footage and news coverage. The result is an authentic role for museum visitors as members of the electorate—listening carefully and interpreting for themselves how the words of the candidate, and then president, mesh with their own view of the world.
Following and introductory film, visitors enter the exhibition arriving at a setting themed like the “campaign trail” through a small town. Topical issues of the day are revealed in documentary footage of intense exchanges between Kennedy and his rivals as he stumps his way across the country. These exchanges provide context for understanding the political landscape of 1960, and not surprisingly, many of the issues—taxes and the economy—are very familiar to a contemporary electorate.
The Kennedy–Nixon Debate, the first debate to be nationally televised, is shown in the museum in a studio-like setting incorporating authentic equipment that was used in the actual broadcast. Unlike Nixon, who appeared nervous and perspiring, Kennedy was at ease in front of the TV camera and made a strong, positive impression that was a great boon to his campaign. Polls showed that people who listened on the radio gave the debate to Nixon, while those viewing on television overwhelmingly believed that Kennedy had won.
Future members of the electorate view a presentation based on President Kennedy’s 1963 Address to the Nation on Civil Rights, given at a time of great national tension. This program is presented in the context of the Oval Office, reflecting Kennedy’s decision to put the full support of the presidency behind this speech, choosing to broadcast live from the Oval Office—another “first” in the history of television. The presentation, like all media in the museum, is in period time and voices, including the words of the equally inspirational Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Kennedy presidency, above all else, was focused on the Cold War. The story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a pivotal episode of this presidency, is told in a sit-down theater midway through the museum. It is a high-tension moment in the history of the world, being the first time two countries were on the brink of nuclear war. This show, and all other media produced for the museum, was produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Davis, best known for his Vietnam documentary, “Hearts and Minds.” Davis agreed to work on the project because he believed our approach, keeping all voices authentic and in real time, was a highly effective way to engage visitors in a genuine way.
The assassination of JFK is experienced in the museum in a manner evocative of the way it was experienced on November 22, 1963 when people quietly watched on their small, black and white television sets as the news trickled in. This concluding media experience, consistent with the rest of the museum, is moving because it places visitors in the moment with powerful, documentary film footage and authentic voices.