The art of the scientific imagination: Reflections on the redesign of Rutherford's Den

A thought piece

During 2015 and 2016 Esem Projects worked with the Arts Centre of Christchurch to establish a curatorial vision for a reinvigorated science museum in the heart of Christchurch.

The museum redesign has formed part of the $290 million restoration of the Arts Centre precinct, following widespread damage to the Centre's 23 heritage buildings as a result of the devastating 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Formerly the site of Canterbury College (later University of Canterbury), it was here, in a 'Den' beneath a lecture theatre, that the eminent scientist Ernest Rutherford first conducted his electrical researches as a young student.

The space is steeped in history, story, and potential.

The curatorial vision established a framework through which to connect the historical story of Rutherford's scientific impact with the new strategic vision for the Arts Centre as a vibrant hub for creative entrepreneurs. This allowed us to really emphasise the enduring relationships between art and science, including the role of music in shaping scientific breakthroughs, and the role of early twentieth century physics in shaping our modern society.

Perhaps most of all, what I loved about this project was the chance to reflect on what makes us curious - and how curiosity and experimentation has played such a decisive and yet undervalued role in shaping scientific genius.

For the project I managed a multi-disciplinary team of designers and architects to deliver a new design concept for the interior refit.

Having delivered a new strategic direction for the Den in June 2015, Esem Projects were subsequently selected by the Arts Centre of Christchurch as lead Curatorial and Design consultants during the project delivery phase.

During this phase I led the commissioning of project teams to produce a set of immersive and hands-on interactive displays relating to the site itself, and the story of atomic physics and its quest for new sources of energy to fuel the modern world.

Some of the exhibits featured in the Den are here below. You can learn more about Esem Projects and their work on Rutherford's Den here.

Creative & Design Teams

Design & Curatorial Lead: Esem Projects (Sarah Barns and Michael Killalea) Exhibition Design: Sago Design & Blac & Co Digital Design: Lightwell Studio (Rutherford Wall) Digital Design: Code on Canvas (Radiant Matter) Sound Design: Gary Sinclair, Tactile Music Animations, Visual FX: Mike Daly

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