COSI’s Lost Egypt Exhibition

Creating an Exhibit that Won’t Fall Through the Floor by COSI

Author: Josh

Exhibit design is exciting, and it’s definitely rewarding, but it’s not without its challenges.  Take for example the development that our “Pyramid Rock Challenge” as gone through to this point:

Our concept for this piece was to create an experience that gave visitors a taste of just what a daunting task moving the pyramid stones would have been.  We started out designing something that replicated the size of some of the largest stones.  This would have been a simple piece (a frame that showed in three dimensions the size of one of the stones), but it definitely would give a person a feel for just how big one of these stones really is.

Wooden Frame Model

Wooden Frame Model

As we thought about this more, we decided that we wanted to design a piece that was more tactile and preferably something that was more interactive (a place where visitors could do something rather than just look at something).  As we discussed this, someone came upon the idea of having a piece of limestone inside the exhibit that was the same size as one of the pyramid stones.  What a great idea!  People could touch the stone and even try to move it, and it would feel much more authentic than a wooden frame.

We contacted a local stone company, and they said they could provide a stone of that size (about six feet by six feet by three feet).  We even looked into getting two stones so that we could use one in the Atrium to let people know about the exhibit and one in the exhibit itself.  Unfortunately, that’s when physics started getting in the way of our plans.  We had originally figured that our floor (and the floors at other museums) could support a stone that weighed about 5,000 pounds.  Unfortunately, a stone the size of the pyramid blocks would weigh considerably more than that.  A cubic foot of granite weighs roughly the same amount as a cubic foot of limestone, and if you’ve ever been in Big Science Park you know that our 5,000 pound granite sphere is a lot smaller than 6’x6’x3’ (well, it’s a sphere and this would be a rectangular prism, but you get the point).   The size of the stone got even smaller after we spoke with an engineering firm.  It turns out that we needed to not only think about the weight of the stone, but also the weight of the forklift that would be moving the stone.  The forklift we use weighs around 3,000 pounds.  When lifting a 5,000 pound stone, most of the combined weight would be focused on the front two wheels of the forklift.  That breaks down to 4,000 pounds of weight per wheel (5,000 lb. stone + 3,000 lb. forklift / 2 wheels), and the maximum load the wheels could safely support on the upper floor of our building is 3,000 pounds per wheel.

So our 5,000 pound stone had to become a 3,000 pound stone.  That’s not a very big stone!   It became time to rethink the activity again.  And when we thought about it, we realized the intent of the activity was to show that while it would have been very difficult to move these stones, ancient Egyptian technology would have made it easier.  So we came up with this:

Sled Moving Activity

Sled Moving Activity

This lets the visitors move a weight over different surfaces using technology (wooden sleds and ropes) that would have been available to the Egyptians when they were building the pyramids.   It’s much more interactive than a big stone, and it should give our guests a good idea of how the ancient Egyptians may have moved these tremendous objects.  It’s also a lot less likely to fall through the floor, which makes our facilities people quite a bit happier.


Ascending to Heaven by Carli
March 3, 2008, 11:45 pm
Filed under: Trip to Egypt | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Author: Carli

The world fears time. Time fears the pyramids. These monuments have defeated time. Built in 2650 BC during the “Old Kingdom” 4th Dynasty, these colossal structures reach 481 feet, use 2 million blocks of limestone, and weigh 2.5 to 15 tons per block. They cover 13 acres of land, built entirely on bedrock.

The architecture is flawlessly built at a 52-degree angle, with all 4 sides nearly equal, and the skillfully cut blocks each absorbing pressure from the layers above it. The word pyramid is actually Roman. The original Egyptian word is “mer” meaning “ascending to heaven.” And when you stand in their shadow, touching the cold 5000-year-old limestone, you truly feel like they could reach the sky.

Giza Plateau Panorama Video

At the Base of the Giza Pyramid Video

Interviewing Ana will be the highlight of my trip. She was eloquent, conversant, and the camera loved her. We asked her questions about the process of archaeology, the Field School, the Lost City, careers in archaeology, conservation / preservation, sustainability, her own goals and aspirations, and on and on. It was a remarkable interview and will result in incredible sound bites for both the exhibit and our media needs.