institution: Biosphere Environment Museum, Environment and Climate Change Canada
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
Planet MTL is an innovative, educational exhibition designed to immerse visitors in learning about Urban Ecosystems. It is a timely topic that is brought to life in a meaningful way, through the focus on Montreal as a case study for cities across Canada and around the world. The exhibition challenges visitors to consider what they love about their city in the context of what makes their city livable, lovable and sustainable, despite modern issues such as pollution and climate change. It finds a balance between an overly doomsday experience with an approach that is engaging, fun, and hopeful for the future.
The exhibition is a multi-sensory experience, with a time-lapse film, graffiti artwork, immersive soundscape, physical interactives, engaging touch screens, and dynamic 3D projections mapped onto the city of Montreal. Above the model, a time-lapse film features the city of Montreal presented on a 360 screen. The seasonal animations on the model synchronize with the time-lapse film. Around the perimeter of the model are stations where visitors can take on up to 20 challenges. Outcomes play out as feedback to players, such as polluted rivers and power outages. City-wide events interrupt gameplay with animations of blizzards and traffic jams. These scenarios serve as a reminder that while visitors may make many individual lifestyle choices, the sum of their collective decisions is shared by all Montrealers.
Planet MTL at the Biosphere is an outstanding achievement for four main reasons:
1. Visitor engagement through immersive design
Planet MTL is an innovative immersive exhibition that delights museum visitors with a creative blend of physical and digital experiences. With theatrical lighting, a 360 time-lapse film, soundscape design, and projection mapping onto a 3D model of the city, the exhibition uses immersive techniques to place visitors inside the ‘magic circle’ of a virtual experience, where they can explore and learn. Rather than a scientific concept explained in an informative article, visitors experience the outcome visually, by watching together as the St. Lawrence river animates with pollution or water levels rise to flood low lying areas of the city. The exhibition relies on film, animation, photos, and art to engage visitors in a way that dense text-based information cannot.
2. Nuanced content personalized by visitors
The use of RFID and touch technology allows visitors to ‘check in’ to each station to unlock personalized content and build a profile of choices as they explore. Rather than one museum for all, this approach allows visitors to connect to the message in their own way. It provides a compelling and meaningful learning experience, designed to evoke an emotional as well as intellectual response. The exhibition is intellectually stimulating due to the nuanced way the issues are presented. Rather than focusing solely on what visitors may expect in an exhibition about urban ecosystems, such as drainage, recycling, and bike lanes, the exhibition includes scenarios that embrace a more fun-loving side of the city: festivals, food, fashion, etc.
3. Behavioral change as a learning outcome
The exhibition strives to change visitor behavior. The linear progression starts with interpretive introductory information, moves through personalized challenges designed to enlighten the visitor about their choices, to the dynamic visualizations of a city at a crossroads, and ends with an interactive station where visitors can make a pledge to change something about their behavior. The exhibition’s focus on timely issues of urban ecosystems, climate change, and environmental sustainability makes it immediately relevant to a global audience. Rather than an exhibition focused on Urban Ecosystems as an abstract concept, the exhibition focuses on Montreal as a case study for the challenges facing cities around the world.
Accessibility was a paramount consideration during design and fabrication of Planet MTL. Access to the 2nd floor exhibition is by stairs or an elevator that delivers all visitors to the same entrance of the exhibition. Through wide double doors, all visitors can enter the exhibition with ease. The physical layout of the space is open and expansive and uncluttered, to facilitate navigation within the room. All interactive experiences, whether physical elements or digital media, are positioned within appropriate heights for physical accessibility. All content is displayed in both French and English; side by side on the interpretive panels and with a persistent toggle throughout the touch screen experiences. Subtitles are visible for all video content.
The Planet MTL exhibition opened at the end of May 2017. From May to December more than 54,679 visitors attended the exhibition. With no additional publicity or increase in resources, the Biosphere saw a 41% increase in the number of visitors in 2017 when compared to 2016, with Planet MTL being one of the key attractions. When looking at the visitor response to the exhibit, we were able to determine, through timing and tracking metrics, that visitors spent an average of 30 to 40 minutes exploring the exhibit, compared to the 15-20 minutes in the other museum exhibits. The most visited module within the exhibit being the interactive 3D model of Montreal. The team of guides also documented that the most amount of questions and interactions came while interacting with visitors in this exhibit hall.
The exhibition was completed by the Biosphere museum and its project team based across Canada, including Expographiq, Lord Cultural Resources, NGX Interactive, ID3 and Media FX. The content development process was a collab¬orative effort between Biosphere, Lord Cultural Resources, NGX Interactive, and expert stakeholders, such as Ouranos (climate change experts).