The Tchaikovsky Academic Opera & Ballet Theater in Perm, Russia
The project to design the core gallery spaces for the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences was an unprecedented experiment in multilayered storytelling. Drawing from a vast archive and object collection, the museum not only explores the art and history of film, but also the science and technology of movie making, and ultimately what it means to watch and be absorbed in the world of a movie – the elusive experience of cinema.
The museum is based in the former May Company department store building on Wilshire Boulevard, a historic Streamline Moderne structure dating from 1939. The restoration and expansion of the building was led by Renzo Piano Building Workshop with executive architect Gensler, and WHY was commissioned to design three floors of the museum’s core exhibition: Stories of Cinema. Our task was to translate the curators’ vision into a powerful visitor experience that communicates the craft and cultural impact of movies, revealing the dynamism and multiplicity of an ever-changing artistic medium.
Stories of Cinema examines the experience of cinema from multiple angles, layering and pacing the exhibition to suit different levels of engagement. Visitors can enjoy a series of short takes from legendary moments in movie history, or dive deeper with immersive vignettes and behind-the-scenes insights. Spaces are dedicated to key aspects of moviemaking – whether screenwriting, hair-and-makeup, special effects, or animation – and connective sightlines and foreshadowing between galleries creates a sense of cohesion and exchange. Throughout the galleries, an emphasis is placed on active participation and creative agency; visitors are encouraged to wander and explore at their own pace, mapping their own version of the many stories of cinema.
Humans are deeply curious, and we wanted to give people the chance to gravitate towards their personal interests, creating connections with others in the process. When we’re excited and interested in our surroundings, we’re ready to be curious about others, too. For me, cinema has always been a way to promote empathy between different groups and individuals. It’s a way of living the stories of others – trying on other minds.
Film is an extraordinary cultural indicator. It reveals who we were – as societies, as makers, and as an audience – and holds up a mirror to who we are now, collectively.
Our design choices were guided by extensive collaboration with the museum’s creative team, as well as conversations with the filmmakers and artists who have their own dedicated spaces within the galleries – among them, Spike Lee and Pedro Almodóvar. Immersive experiential zones have been designed in collaboration with the experience designers HYPNO, and we worked closely with the graphic designers INFO.CO to generate text and graphics which act as architectural elements in their own right.
Stories of Cinema will illuminate the diverse and fascinating world of film – its art, technology, artists, history, and social impact – through the dynamic and engaging exhibition spaces designed by WHY. We will tell complete stories of moviemaking celebratory, educational, and sometimes critical. As cinema is ever-evolving, wHY’s design is nimble and allows us to tell new stories from a variety of film artists and vantage points over time.