National Building Museum
Critical Appraisal of Late Night Programs

The National Building Museum contracted RK&A to conduct critical appraisals of three “Late Night” programs that accompanied the ICEBERGS installation: “Under the Surface,” “Save Jack!,” and “flip the berg!”  ICEBERGS was jointly presented by the museum and James Corner Field Operations.  The programming focused on current themes in landscape representation, physical experience, geometry, and construction.

How did we approach this study?

RK&A intentionally designed a modest study.  We attended three different programs, observing and participating in program activities. At each program, RK&A also conducted interviews with up to 10 participants where we asked them to talk about their thoughts, perceptions, and understandings of the built environment based on their program experiences.  We also asked participants about their motivations for attending the programs, the skills and ideas they took away, and their overall perceptions of the museum.  

What did we learn?

At all programs, participants demonstrated a high level of engagement with the installation and program activities.  Many, for instance, enjoyed the installation for its visual appeal, describing a sense of wonder and awe at the chance to see ICEBERGS light up at night.  Several appreciated when program activities allowed them to explore other exhibitions at the museum and experience a “different” view of the installation, such as from an upper floor.  While participants at all programs were enthusiastic about the installation and the museum in general, they were sometimes unsure of how ICEBERGS related to museum’s mission.  Engagement with built-environment topics across programs was also mixed.  Many participants at Under the Surface, for instance, shared thoughts they had during the program that related to the built environment, such as questions about ICEBERGS’ construction.  However, they were unable to connect these thoughts to specific program activities or the museum’s mission.  And, some non-museum facilitators contracted to run specific activities (e.g., scientists at Under the Surface) had difficulty communicating built-environment principles to participants.  On the other hand, activities like Creative Build at Save Jack! and Text-Ray Vision at flip the berg! successfully helped visitors consider engineering concepts like weight distribution as well as principles of construction and design as they relate to ICEBERGS. 

What are the implications of the findings?

Findings demonstrate that participants are enthusiastic about attending late-night programs, in part because of the opportunity to explore the museum after hours.  However, as staff ponder future program development, they might consider ways to deepen participants’ engagement with built environment topics and the museum’s mission.  Simplifying a program’s focus so that it concentrates exclusively on built-environment topics (rather than a combination of built environment topics and climate science, as in Under the Surface) may help achieve this goal.  Staff might also consider providing more in-depth training about built environment topics and the museum’s mission to non-museum facilitators who run activities (e.g. scientists, architects, performers).

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