Mathmatica Revisited

When hurricane Sandy hit providence recently, RISD completely shut down.  The nice part about all of the craziness was having a day off to do some exploring.  I decided to head up to the Museum of Science in Boston. There I visited Mathematica: A World of Numbers … and Beyond. Although, Charles and Rae Eames created several exhibits in their lifetime, Mathmatica in Boston is the only one still on view today.


The exhibit was designed for IBM in 1961 and for being over 50 years old the most of design is remarkably current.  I realize much has been written about Mathmatica, but I was curious about its staying power. I wonder if part of its appeal is the star power and reverence to the Eames or that it is just that well-designed?


One of the most basic components to the exhibit that I really loved was the railing that wrapped around all the text and graphic panels. You could tell they were designed with the ergonomics of the viewer considered. I saw several people lingering and resting against the railings to read text. I also found myself staying much longer to look at images simply because it was comfortable to do so. As someone who is always frustrated that museums seem to ignore the fact that people might want to sit down at any point in a visit, the simple railing was a great touch.


The exhibit pieces themselves such as the soap bubble Mobius bands and the bell curve was fun, inspiring and beautiful. Watching the plastic balls fall into the shape of the bell curve created a heightened sense of anticipation as you tried to guess what slot the ball would drop into.  These were great examples of the Eames great attention to detail.


I also appreciated the diagrams, the graphic style is not one you see often any more and is a nice contrast to the slick and somewhat cheesy graphics in the rest of the museum.


One area that seemed to date the exhibit was the text itself, it was laborious and confusing.  While I liked the arrangement of the image wall, the mounting on paper and cardboard for most didactics did not wear well. It also seemed cheep for an otherwise very expensive looking exhibit.