Architecture is about designing a space, and buildings are just one way to hold or organize it. From old to new, from one story to the tallest in the world, each building has a story to tell. And often, we get to be the ones to tell these amazing stories. But sometimes a building isn't quite as simple as it seems - how do you write about a building that isn't on Earth? Do we use the same interpretation techniques? Is there a way to tell a story from the earth about a building that isn't here?
The International Space Station, featured on our tour for Space Center Houston, is a very special type of architecture up in space and so it presented us with a few challenges. We asked Sarah Brockett, Head of Experience Design and producer for the Space Center Tour, to tell us about writing for one of the most unique "buildings" in, well, the galaxy.
How is the ISS different, but still architectural?
The ISS is reminiscent of a traditional building because it has multiple rooms, some windows, and even a garden, but when a building is in orbit, it’s also very different than anything on Earth. Probably no other constructed object has ever been so planned out! NASA and its partners had to invent the systems and structures, while considering factors like microgravity, and then actually build and test them, all before bringing them up into space. Once they had all the “rooms” or modules, they brought up the pieces on 40 different space missions – so now, they have a “building” up there.
How did this affect the writing of the tour?
Typical architecture tours explain how the space is used and lived in – in this tour we also discussed why it was designed for specific functions—basic functions like eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom—and how the design enables those functions in such a unique and challenging environment. It's a great way to draw the visitor's eye to details around them, and then use those details to talk about bigger, scientific concepts.
What is your favorite part of making the tour?
Getting to go inside all of the physical spaces—the 747 shuttle carrier cockpit especially. The 747 shuttle carrier is a miracle of engineering. It’s amazing that something so giant can get off the ground with a space shuttle on its back!
In your interviews with astronauts, what did they say about the ISS?
Its amazing to talk to astronauts—I'm now one degree of separation from space! Tracy Caldwell-Dyson told us what it's like to look back on Earth from the ISS cupola (its window), and how the stars look much brighter and closer. She really captures the awe. It makes you realize what a feat it is for humanity to have put this thing up in space, circling the Earth. And it's a good reminder that we still have so much exploring to do.
Thanks Sarah for sharing your experiences with a one of a kind project. If you have a unique project and would like either some guidance on how to tell its story, let us know!
*This post is part of our series for #Museumweek, specifically #ArchitectureMW.