The Adler Planetarium had quite a challenge: they needed to show how the universe evolved over 13.7 billion years, from the Big Bang to today.
Several companies presented designs for the exhibit, but Tectonics’ design was selected. It features a tunnel that visitors enter through a small opening. As they walk through the tunnel, the exhibit widens, mirroring the expansion of the universe over time.
The tunnel walls and ceiling are crafted from tensioned fabric, printed with tessellated shapes and lit from within with color-changing LED lights. The custom walls are 2’ thick, with the outside of the tunnel made out of traditional carpentry materials. Tectonics had to match the tensioned fabric components with the hard walls, while ensuring the canopies were solidly suspended between them. The canopies also needed to be positioned to allow for hanging projectors and to accommodate the ventilation system that circulates air through the exhibit.
The tunnel ends in a large, curved wall hung with tensioned fabric projection screens. Tectonics was inspired by the concept of space when designing this wall; it was constructed with minimal spreaders so that it blends seamlessly into the dark. The frame was powder coated black, giving it a skin tougher than conventional paint. The fabric cover was created by combining standard black soft knit fabric with a specialty mesh fabric called safety net fabric. The resulting mesh layered over opaque fabric creates the impression of great depth.
The wall also supported 4 custom projection areas. Each projection screen was created using 4-6 individual custom shapes mounted in clusters. Tectonics manufactured the frames to exact specs, and then covered each one in standard white, soft knit fabric with a sewn-in opaque liner, which is ideal for projection. Four projectors were hung from the ceiling and controlled by a touch screen, allowing visitors to view a multitude of images of their choice—from the atoms in their bodies to the vastness of the Milky Way.
Tectonics bid against other vendors for this project and ultimately was chosen not only because we were able to keep costs low, but also because of our history of stellar customer service. Tectonics worked closely with the contractor, lighting designers and architects, as well as the Adler team and exhibit builders to ensure that the project was completed on time, within budget, and without complications.
The Adler Planetarium’s permanent exhibit, created by Tectonics, opened to the public on July 13, 2012; further information on this project can be found on the museum’s website.