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Queens Chronicle

Build your own way into a world of science

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Posted: Thursday, June 12, 2014 10:30 am

You are stranded on an island, active volcano or in the belly of a dinosaur. How do you survive? How do you escape?

Ten-year-old Richard was stranded in his bedroom and created what he thought was the best way to escape.

“I made a bridge,” he said, hardly looking up from his project.

A bridge — and he emphasized this — that would only take him out of his room, not back in.

Richard and dozens of other children and their parents — mostly museum members — got a sneak peek at the New York Hall of Science’s “Design Lab” on June 5. It opened to the general public on June 7.

Margaret Honey, president and CEO of the Hall of Science, describes the new, permanent exhibition as a partnership.

“With ‘Design Lab,’ we are exploring a new form of engagement between a museum and its visitors,” she said. “Science museums have always been known for hands-on exhibits and participatory programs, but with ‘Design Lab,’ visitors are in the driver’s seat like never before.”

This formal explanation doesn’t seem to give a full sense of what “Design Lab” is all about: creativity and absolute fun.

There are five activity areas.

Maker Space is where visitors learn how to convert designs into prototypes.

Backstage is where children devise solutions in performance-based activities. During the opening, the kids were making shadow puppets that could move their limbs, open their ferocious mouths or wiggle their petals.

The Sandbox area was a favorite among the boys. The section is meant for visitors to build sturdy structures they can stand inside. Six-year-old Macaih used wooden dowels and rubber bands to begin building his shelter.

The Studio is an area for small, tabletop structures. The first session at the Studio challenges kids to build a structure out of cardboard, circuits and pipe cleaners that would make the city a happier place.

The Treehouse was not fully complete but will be a split-level area for experiments and activities requiring a vertical drop. It was there Richard built his bridge out of cardboard and aluminum to get out of his room.

A little girl sitting next to him wanted to be trapped inside a snowflake. The contraption she made looked like a tool straight out of a Dr. Seuss book but she was happy with it and she assured her dad she would be able to live inside a snowflake if she had this tool.

What “Design Lab” does so well is put the kids in charge. Often, many kid exhibits are hands-on but are somewhat restrictive in what they allow the children to do.

In the Sandbox, Macaih actually built a shelter — with the guidance of a Hall of Science employee.

He was the one who decided how tall and how many sticks he wanted to use.

And Richard didn’t have to build a bridge out of his room. He could have built a rope out of pipe cleaners or a trampoline out of Saran wrap.

“Design Lab” allows kids to do what they like best: Work with their hands and think for themselves.

Employees are always on hand to help or answer questions but rather than telling a kid what to build, they encourage visitors to brainstorm and problem solve with them.

It’s like arts and crafts but taken to the next level.

“Design Lab” was designed and fabricated by SITU Studio in Brooklyn which developed a series of flexible activity areas to inspire do-it-yourself sensibility.

“... Our challenge as designers was to develop a series of workshops flexible enough to support the myriad activities [the museum] will host today and in the future,” SITU partner Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherny said. “SITU and NYSCI share the belief that the Maker Movement presents new ways of thinking about the intersection of design and science. This project presented a perfect opportunity to explore this theme together.”

Summer hours for “Design Lab” activities are Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The activities are free with museum admission.

Welcome to the discussion.