Mueller Austin

Architecture Spotlight: The Thinkery

October 31, 2016

Since the new building opened in December 2013, the Thinkery (formerly known as the Austin Children’s Museum) has not only been an exciting and educational space for children to learn about science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) related subjects, it’s also become an architectural icon in Mueller. We caught up with Jim Susman of STG Design, who headed up the design of the project, to shed some light on the thought process and symbolism that laid the groundwork for the Thinkery.

Did you know the overall concept for the Thinkery was inspired by the idea of building blocks? The Thinkery’s goal is to empower the next generation to be creative problem solvers; the building block design is a playful and practical nod to that mission, as learning simple concepts can be foundational for something much, much bigger.

“We also didn’t want it to look like a kid’s museum, because there are science-related exhibits and concepts that adolescents can learn from as well,” noted Susman. The color red – indisputably a bold color choice – provides an instant visual cue, creating an “intuitive sense of energy,” Susman added. “We also wanted to encourage children to touch, play and interact with the exhibits, so the color choice captures a sense of playfulness to direct such encounters inside the museum.”

The outdoor spaces, which are already a significant part of Mueller’s design and new urbanist principles, naturally played into the concept of the Thinkery. The Thinkery building is intentionally located in front of Mueller Lake Park, to balance the natural beauty of the park with the imagery of the iconic building. An interior courtyard also provides an open area so museum-goers can enjoy natural light and ambience.

Inside, smart design was employed to showcase STEAM concepts with the point of view of a child in mind, while creating a more seamless experience for adults. “We incorporated two front doors, one for buses and school groups, and one for general visitors,” Susman said.

Additionally, “a broad, generous staircase is centrally located, which acts as a ‘mainstreet.” Susman points out that at the top of the stairs is where the magic happens: “as a child, there is a sense of wonder and awe stemming from viewing something from up high, we wanted to provide that perspective and experience for kids.”

One of Susman’s personal favorite parts of working on the Thinkery project was working with exhibit designers, who he said were creative and talented. Together, they established one of the exhibit spaces – a water room – that essentially had to be water-proofed to protect the space from the splashing of young learners.

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