Cinnabar Inc. Produces Major Exhibits For New California Academy of Sciences -- Sustainable, Kit-of-Parts Exhibit System Complements Renzo Piano "Green" Building

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"Our concept to integrate exhibit structures and the built environment was developed in collaboration with Renzo Piano Building Workshop. It's what Renzo calls the 'Kit-of-Parts,'" says Cinnabar CEO Jonathan Katz, who executive produced 35,000 square feet of exhibits for the new California Academy of Sciences, which is set for a grand re-opening on 27 September in San Francisco.

by enabling it to function, in a practical sense, as a science museum, and thereby fulfill its educational mission. It was an unusual collaboration, but one we'll probably see a lot more of in the future, as museums increasingly opt for this kind of architectural approach.

As executive producer, Cinnabar CEO Jonathan Katz helms a creative team that conceptualized, designed, fabricated and installed the new exhibits in six areas at the new California Academy of Sciences, a $488 million, 410,000 square foot facility, which is also home to the Steinhart Aquarium and the Morrison Planetarium.

"The new Academy building is a huge departure from the typical black box museum gallery," observes Katz. "The public floor is a big space - a giant football field - including the planetarium and rain forest domes and a piazza in the middle. Glass frames the full width of either end - all the way to the ceiling, at 34 feet. Our exhibits need to perform in this marvelous volume, without the crutches of regimented order or separated galleries."

Sustainable "kit of parts" modules are big news in the exhibit world
A vital part of Cinnabar's work for the Academy was the development of unique "kit of parts" exhibit systems with self-contained infrastructure, fabricated of sustainable materials, that can be disassembled and reconfigured. These freestanding modules were an essential and pioneering solution for presenting and preserving items from the Academy collection without the need to incorporate the infrastructure elements within the architecture of the building itself. They are equipped with their own lighting, electrical, AV, climate control, life support and technical systems. Each exhibit kit of parts consists of approximately 30 to 40 components made from powder coated steel and plywood, and supports exhibit structures that are from 8- to 24-feet long, and as much as 15 feet high. The units are entirely stabilized against earthquakes and self-contained.

"These modules give the building its identity as the California Academy of Sciences," explains Katz, "by enabling it to function, in a practical sense, as a science museum, and thereby fulfill its educational mission. It was an unusual collaboration, but one we'll probably see a lot more of in the future, as museums increasingly opt for this kind of architectural approach."

Academy exhibits under Cinnabar's stewardship

  • Altered State, an exhibit about climate change, which focuses on California (10,000 square feet). Altered State conveys the urgency and power of its subject, drawing upon the Academy's formidable specimen collection and research and actively inviting the visitor into the conversation.
  • Islands of Evolution, illustrating Academy research expeditions to Galápagos and Madagascar, while explaining key concepts about evolution and biodiversity. (10,000 square feet)
  • Tusher African Center, a recreation of this classic diorama hall. Digital projection creates the effect of a herd of elephants walking through the landscape in one of the dioramas, which also features day-for-night lighting and a custom audioscape. (7,600 square feet)
  • the Naturalist Center, a research center open to Academy visitors
  • the Early Explorers Cove, for children and their families
  • reinstallation of the Foucault Pendulum

About Jonathan Katz, Cinnabar and the creative team
Jonathan Katz commenced his design career in high school, building floats for the Pasadena Rose Parade during winter breaks. Eventually he managed the whole process for a float design and construction company. He shifted gears in the 1970s and went to work for then-California Gov. Jerry Brown, helping implement key Brown initiatives such as the Office of Appropriate Technology and the California Conservation Corps, programs which addressed alternative technologies and resource conservation. Returning to the world of design & production, Katz founded Cinnabar Inc. in Los Angeles in 1981.

Today, Cinnabar is a leading production and fabrication company that works in film and television, museums and themed attractions. "For entrepreneurs like Cinnabar's Jonathan Katz, association with Hollywood not only gives him a special cachet in world markets but also provides day-to-day contact with the most demanding clients in the world, virtually forcing him to remain at the forefront of his craft," wrote David Friedman (Why Every Business Will Be Like Show Business,, March 1995).

Playing a key role on Cinnabar's creative team for the California Academy of Sciences was the San Francisco based company, Volume Inc., headed by Adam Brodsley and Eric Heiman. Volume helped develop and execute the exhibit displays' visual identity and information design system. Other members of the production team include Cinnabar's Jeannie Lomma (project manager), Juan Corral (production manager) and Tom Mullaly (AV manager), along with Mindi Lipschultz (media director), Dante Thomas (interactive developer), and Snibbe Interactive (interactive multimedia). Cinnabar's Andrea Whittier was art director for the Early Explorers Cove. Pixie Hearn oversaw specimen and content integration. For Exhibit Development, Darcie Fohrman led the Exhibit Development group and Tim Newman was writer/director/producer for the Climate Change Impact media. Katz also assembled a world-class team of science writers whose words grace the panels in each exhibit, including Carolyn Collins Petersen, Jeremy Bloom, Sophie Katz, the Academy's own Aaron Pope, and Michael Rigsby.

About the California Academy of Sciences
Since 1853, the California Academy of Sciences has been dedicated to exploring, explaining and protecting the natural world. It is the oldest scientific institution in the West and one of the oldest in the nation. The Academy's research collections, which are among the world's largest, include more than 18 million specimens - essential tools for comparative studies on the history and future of the natural world.


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