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07 Dec 2017

BRC applies theme park design to Museum of the Bible
BY Tom Anstey

The Museum of the Bible opened its doors on 17 November

The Museum of the Bible opened its doors on 17 November
photo: PA Images

Experience design firm BRC has taken the concept of a theme park attraction and placed it inside a museum setting at the new Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.

A US$500m (€424m, £374.5m) project, the 430,000sq ft (40,000sq m) museum, which opened on 17 November, has been created inside a former refrigerated warehouse built in 1922.

A group of high-profile design teams worked on the project, with US firm SmithGroup acting as lead architects and Clark Construction Group serving as the general contractor.

BRC’s role was to create a themed experience over the museum’s Narrative Floor, with its aim to tell the story of the Bible through history and the first part of that mandate focusing on the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament.

“We worked with a group of scholars for four-and-a-half years, to develop a narrative guests could experience for themselves,” Matt Solari, creative director for BRC, told Attractions Management.

“We decided early on that the Old Testament experience was going to focus strictly on the Hebrew texts themselves and what they mean to Jewish people – something which really lends itself to an immersive journey.”

The 30-minute experience takes guests on foot through a series of rooms, each using a variety of theatrical rooms and art installations, each with audio-visual and digital effects to tell the Bible’s story.

“It’s akin to a theme park in the way that it was designed,” said Solari. “Believe it or not we took inspiration from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

"There’s a lot we borrowed from how that attraction works, applying those principles to a museum and an experience.

“We snake the audience through the experience to maximise the use of space and special effects in very much the same way they do with a ride like Pirates of the Caribbean.

"There’s not an ounce of space wasted. We pay attention to site lines and reveals – it’s a classic attraction design approach.”

Following the Old Testament experience, visitors can explore the New Testament with a film created by BRC. Sitting inside a 125-seat theatre featuring a 180-degree wraparound screen, the film takes viewers through all 27 books and letters of the New Testament in just 12 minutes.

“It’s not just a march through the story,” said Solari. “It’s more like a visual poem that takes you through the formation of the last days of Jesus, and how his message travelled and became the formation of the early church.

"Everyone, for the most part, comes in knowing bits and pieces of the Bible story. We had to connect those dots and take you through the full expression of the New Testament.”

The Narrative Floor is one of three central storeys for the museum. In between the BRC creations sits The Nazareth Jesus Knew – a recreation of a Nazareth village from the time of Jesus – created by Nashville-based design firm Jonathan Martin Creative.

“Its role is to bridge the gap between the two Testaments and to try and get people acclimated to the culture and politics of the day,” said Solari. “The stories you hear are somewhat put in context by this experience.”

According to BRC, initial indications are that the experience has been met with a great response from the public.

“It’s something museums don’t typically do, this level of immersive storytelling,” said Solari.

“What we do is create strong narrative experiences and there are a handful of museums that seek us out for that. In the museum world, they’re still catching on to it.

"The museum community that has seen it has reacted extremely well not only to its entertainment value, which is extremely high, but also its deep level of scholarship.

“We did some pretty daring things where the overall effect is so unexpected and surprising for guests. We want this to stand as a new benchmark for how to tell stories in a museum setting.”

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