Time is supposed to be the one thing we cannot hold onto. However, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry (www.msichicago.org) has done just that in its exhibit, Time, which features 450 clocks, watches, and other time-keeping instruments. As designed by architect Doug Garofalo and project architect Randy Kober, using steel and a material made from recycled milk jugs, the exhibit features curving walls that are translucent on one side and lit from within. Lighting was designed by the firm CharterSills. Working on a relatively low budget, LDs Mark Sills (principal in charge) and Dave Warfel (project designer) made use of inexpensive units to achieve their unique effects.

Entrance to Time exhibit. Photo: Dirk Fletcher/©2001 Museum of Science and Industry

The layout of the exhibit begins in a space titled Capture, which focuses on the early discovery and tracking of time; the centerpiece is a Roman sundial from Pompeii, which rotates on a clear acrylic pedestal. The next stop is titled Define, which examines the effort to put a name to time. The main body of the collection is housed in Display, which surrounded on all sides by the undulating plastic walls. Running around the main hall is an elevated level titled Collect, which offers more timepieces and new views of the exhibit itself. The final section is titled Question and is dedicated to exploring the future of time and interpretations of the concept.

The "Define" section. Photo: Dirk Fletcher/©2001 Museum of Science and Industry

In designing the lighting for Time, the CharterSills team faced a number of challenges:

How to light the interior of the curving white walls, while allowing for accessibility to the fixtures

To do this, the LDs selected the Martin Robocolor III, a 150W metal-halide color changer with 11 colors. These are placed inside each 3' section of plastic wall. To tone down the color palette for the Display section--the Martin units feature saturated colors--three dichroic colors were installed in each unit, using less saturated colors, including Rosco 60 (No Color Blue) and R64 (Light Steel Blue).

Color-changing sequence. Photo ©2001 CharterSills

How to create a changing environment to support the concept of the elusive nature of time

The main display rooms are defined by curving white plastic and steel walls that reach 15' in height. Sills and Warfel used the walls' milky white plastic to great effect: The Robocolors are programmed individually so different colors "wipe" down the walls, creating a dynamic sense of movement--movement being, after all, the essential nature of time.

The "Display" section. Photo: Dirk Fletcher/©2001 Museum of Science and Industry

How to announce, through lighting, the different sections of the exhibit

At the opening to the Capture space is the first of several custom gobos that mark each section of the exhibit. Also, the logo for the National Time Museum is projected on the floor, and the word "time" slowly circles it, a theme that is repeated throughout the exhibit with the use of Rosco Gobo Rotators in ETC Source Four units. There are similar gobos at the entrance to each space. And a Martin Imagescan sends a 35mm slide image of a clock moving around the entrance to the exhibit.

The Gebhart Clock, circa 1895. ©2001 CharterSills

How to light unique and rare clocks in Plexiglas cases for viewing and preservation

This is achieved through a combination of custom fiber optics and halogen pendant fixtures, which are used to light the cases. In the Define space, the cases are lit with PAR-30 pendants hanging above the cases, but behind the curving translucent walls. These units are custom-made by Eureka to allow easy removal from the top of the wall for lamp-changing. In the Display section, MR-16 spotlights, clamped to pipes that curve throughout the space, light the clocks, along with more Eureka fixtures. In some cases, the designers took a more dramatic approach. For example, the Pompeii sundial in Capture is lit with a High End Systems Color Pro® unit, with dichroic color-mixing and a built-in iris, which takes the place of the sun in helping the dial tell time. Of course, Pompeii was destroyed by a volcano, so periodically a group of High End Systems Technobeams® move around the space while strobes hidden in the walls begin flashing, creating a kind of lighting explosion. Edge-lit fiber optics on the pedestal suggest flowing lava. Also, in the final section, Question, more Imagescans are used to project time-related images that move and rotate through the space, creating a feeling of chaos.

The Pompeii sundial with "lava" fiber optics. Photo: Doug Fogelson/©2001 CharterSills

In other respects, the lighting design was tailored to fit the specific needs of the exhibit. The mixture of architectural and theatrical units was chosen deliberately, to facilitate a unique, dramatic lighting look. The use of moving images and projected patterns was calculated to make the exhibit a total, unified experience, and the use of pipe-mounted fixtures and a complete dimming system is intended to offer plenty of flexibility in the future.

Fiber-optic spot on custom stem. ©2001 CharterSills

In other respects, the lighting design was tailored to fit the specific needs of the exhibit. Overall, the exhibit was created on a fast-track schedule and a relatively small budget. It was developed and built in 10 months, about half the time the museum spends on other comparable projects. The museum allotted about half of its normal budget for exhibits, approximately $1.7 million. Of this, about a third went to electrics and lighting.

Clock gears with MR-16s hidden in custom railing. ©2001 CharterSills

The equipment list for the project includes 96 Martin Robocolor IIIs, five Martin Imagescans, six High End Systems Technobeams, one High End ColorPro HXI, six ETC Source Fours, six Rosco Gobo Rotators, six ETC Source Four PARs, four Lucifer Fiber Optics illuminators and fixtures, 65 Eureka custom PAR pendants, six American DJ H20 effects lights, 20 egg strobes, 100 MR-16 spotlights, 250' of Lucifer linear low-voltage lighting in aluminum extrusion, and seven Exterieur Vert recessed MR-16 uplights. Control is provided by an ETC Expression III LPC, programmed on a full Expression III, with an ETC SR24 Sensor rack, with 32 dimmers and 16 relays and two DMX opto-splitters. Warfel notes that ETC and Designlab-Chicago provided valuable assistance in the final hours of construction and programming.

Time will run out in 2003, although if it proves popular it could be extended. The CharterSills team came up with a lighting design that helps visitors to the exhibit to kill time in a most enjoyable fashion.