Thursday, October 4, 2007

Universeum in Gothenburg, Sweden

Universeum, which opened in 2001, is located in a dramatic structure that received an architectural award for the best building design in Sweden since 1950. Conveniently located near a major public transit station, it is next door to a large amusement park and expects to host 500,000 visitors this year. This photo shows the watercourse along a sidewalk leading to the building in the background.

Universeum, like many European museums, is seeing record attendance in 2007, which it attributes in large part to the prolonged rainy weather.

Inside, the center has two major and very different parts. One part is devoted to biology and includes a stream-to-ocean environment and a large rain forest environment. On the other side of a huge glass wall are several floors of physical science exhibits.

To begin their journey through the biology section, visitors first take an inclined lift up 30 vertical meters to the top of a winding path that starts with the plants and aquatic fauna associated with a mountain stream environment in Sweden.

Long, waist-height, open-topped aquaria extend along the winding path and gradually transition to lower-elevations and a marine environment that transitions to a below-the-surface setting that includes a circular tunnel with sharks and other large fish. There is also a touch tank, shown here, where visitors can hold marine invertebrates when staff are present.

Galleries in this part of the building include terrestrial animals such as a popular exhibit called “Deadly Beauties,” with displays of colorful, but poisonous, snakes and other animals. These displays are beautifully designed and well maintained.

Visitors can then go through a large, multi-level rain forest environment that includes extensive displays of plants plus a few animals. Warm rain drips continuously in air with 100% relative humidity, and the effect is dramatic. These two areas are used extensively for school group visits, with generally involve a guided tour with extensive questions and answers between the staff and visiting students.

The transition to the physical sciences on the other side of the building is abrupt. Exhibits here are grouped in various thematic areas and include “Dig It!” (making music with computers in a series of stations in glass rooms, as shown in the photo).

“Brash, Bang, Boom” is an exhibition on automotive safety (sponsored by Volvo, of course, which is based in Gothenburg). In this exhibit, visitors learn that their speed in a 30 km/hr crash is equivalent to jumping from a height of 3.5 meters. They can experience this by climbing the stairs and jumping to the mat below. At 70 km/hr, it's like jumping from an 8-story building. A scale nearby weighs visitors in Kg and also shows the equivalent "mass" at 30, 50, and 70 km. This exhibition extends the mission of the science center in an interecting direction by combining the science with a public service. Every Thursday, police spend 2 hours at the exhibition talking with visitors about safety, and a workshop for teens uses an alcohol-related scenario to encourage critical thinking about the consequences of drinking and driving.

“Puls” is a popular series of physical challenges related to healthy hearts, although most visitors seem simply to enjoy the physical challenges more than the science. A weather center (under construction), a space flight and astronomy area, and several other single exhibits (included whisper dishes that reflect off a wall-mounted disk because there is no path within the exhibit area that is long enough align the two dishes axially.)

The building, as part of its design, incorporates a number of interesting sustainability-related features. One of them is a dual drainage system that separates toilet wastes into two streams and treats the liquid portion inside the building.

The center has recently received major funding to develop an exhibition on climate change. It is still early in the process, and the major thematic areas and individual exhibits are in the concept development stage. However, the core message will likely revolve around helping visitors to think critically about their personal actions and to make more-informed decisions about their individual and collective impacts on the global environment.

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