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Special Venue Media: Visual Acuity plans technology with architecture for Noble Planetarium, Fort Worth


Compounding its reputation as the media and technology consultant of choice to the world’s planetarium and visitor attraction industries, Visual Acuity were engaged to provide architectural guidance and technology planning for the complete redesign of the Noble Planetarium at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History in Forth Worth, Texas, USA. 

Under the direction of the celebrated Mexican architectural partnership Legorreta + Legorreta assisted by the experienced locally based firm Gideon Toal, the Museum was demolished and then completely reconstructed into a series of colorful, multi-dimensional buildings which celebrate the design traditions of Latin America and the south-western United States.  Its vibrant exterior, dominated by a spectacular ‘urban lantern’ tower, houses 166, 000 square feet of new exhibit areas.  These include an upgraded IMAX Omni Theater, a new Museum School, and five glass-walled ‘Innovation Studios’ which visitors will see as they walk through the main entrance.

In keeping with this new building, the new Noble Planetarium has been transformed into a state-of-the-art facility with removable bench seating for 100 people, a Zeiss ZKP4 star projector and SPACEGATE Quinto full-dome video projection system controlled by powerdome®. This means visitors can now view the bright and natural stars from the optical/mechanical projector along with full-dome video from the SPACEGATE as one complete system. 

Working alongside Gideon Toal, Visual Acuity provided architectural design guidance and technology planning right from the project’s inception. The company offered advice on audio, video, and cabled infrastructure, not just for the Planetarium itself but also for its associated pre-show area, where four large screens will show guests up-to-the-second views of the sun piped in live via microwave dishes and fiber networks from a nearby solar observatory and other real-time images, and computer rack room with support systems for the pre-show area and the Planetarium.

Mark Matthews, Lead Consultant at Visual Acuity, comments: “As part of the rebirth of the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History, the client wanted the Planetarium to be equipped with the very latest AV and IT systems while retaining its tradition of live presentations and interactive astronomy education. We worked very closely with the planetarium team to ensure that their requirements were translated into architectural, construction and technical requirements that would deliver the best platform for what the team of astronomy professionals do. The Museum already has a successful Omnimax theater and the last thing they wanted was a system that just played automated canned shows. The system can and does play automated canned shows, but has been optimized for live presentations. Design considerations included the ability for presenters to walk among the audience, easily accessible storage space for prop carts and the console being at the front of the planetarium.” 

He added: “The live presentations show the Texas sky tonight and begin with the Zeiss ZKP-4 star projector showing a very realistic view of the sky over Fort Worth on the day and date of the show. Various constellations are discussed with the myths and folk lore from around the world that surrounds the constellation images. The presenter then looks at which planets will be visible that night and how to find them in the sky. Then the audience are taken away from Earth’s surface to go and visit the planets that they have just discussed and see them up close before flying out of the solar system and looking at the far reaching influences of our sun, our galaxy and as far away as scientists have been able to measure to the edge of Cosmic Microwave Background. At the end of the shows audiences are given practical advice on how they can place red balloons over their flash lights to prevent destroying their night vision, some useful star charts that can be downloaded for free to assist in their own backyard astronomy and other useful tips to encourage the family audiences.”

“In many planetarium and digital dome projects located around the world, ranging from city flagship planetariums down to local educational planetariums, Visual Acuity brings a huge amount of specialist technical knowledge to the table.  They also apply their experience of how the latest systems are architecturally integrated into a new-building design.”

“The ZKP-4 star projector supplied by Seiler Instrument and Manufacturing Co. Inc. and manufactured by Carl Zeiss Jena AG provides possibly the most realistic recreation of the night sky available. When the lights dim and the audience’s eyes adjust to the dark, you can hear gasps in the theater at the beautiful night sky. Mark Matthews recalls: ‘We were discussing the system over dinner one evening and I recalled that in the Hayden planetarium it had been claimed that if you took binoculars into the theatre you could see objects that were not visible to the naked eye. Don Garland of the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History took his binoculars into the dome and we were able to find all sorts of things that we hadn’t been able to resolve with our naked eyes. It was truly amazing. The planetarium staff are now considering having star parties inside the dome adds Matthews.

Using the Uniview system from SCISS AB, Sweden, as its main digital visualization platform allows the Noble Planetarium to show visitors real, up-to-date astronomical data. Information from the Internet is fed live into the dome and gives the Museum’s personnel access to the latest astronomical imagery, for example high resolution satellite imagery of Mars, Moon and the Earth.

Even before the public opening in late 2009, guests have been wowed by preview shows at the refurbished Planetarium including the 2009 ASTC Association of Science – Technology Centers annual conference in November 2009.  Linda Krouse, Planetarium Director, Noble Planetarium at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History in Forth Worth is full of praise for the way in which Visual Acuity helped to execute such a technologically complex and time-sensitive project.  “The company was completely professional in its approach, ” says Krouse.  “They listened carefully to our requirements, drew up suitable specifications, then assisted with their practical implementation with a great on-site team that was flexible and showed great attention to detail. The results are clear for all to see: a Planetarium system unlike anything previously seen in the south-west that is live, educational and, above all, stunning to simply sit and watch!”

Images Courtesy of: Noble Planetarium at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History in Forth Worth, Texas, USA.

About Visual Acuity

Acuity is an award-winning leading consultancy, offering long-term, independent and unbiased strategic, consulting, design guidance and operational advice to clients in all areas of new-media, visualization & ICT technology all over the world.  The company is headquartered in Brighton, UK and has offices in Bergen, Norway.  It works closely with industry, academia, governments and non-profit organisations in the application of technology in projects ranging from museums and science centres to pharmaceutical research and development.

See also:
Museum Design: Visual Acuity scoops double awards for California Academy of Sciences project

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