Play Time

Hands On! Studio brings a blend of bold, new experiences and beloved originals to the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s new expansion at Thompson’s Point.

“We started working with a core team at the museum in 2016, when they had just started moving in the direction of expanding. We determined that all the experiences in the Children’s Museum would be based on learning through play.

“Visually, we wanted ‘Go With the Flow,’ shown here, and ‘Ramp Up,’ in the adjacent gallery, to contain joyous kinetic structures. In GWTF, we saw this fantasy water machine that kids could manipulate. You can use water jets to move balls, you can use pumps to make the tippy cups go.

“One of the other things you’re always trying to do with museums and discovery centers is design for different age ranges. For the water tables, there’s a lower table for the toddler age, and then the other table’s a little bit higher, and the experiences are a little more sophisticated. Successful exhibition design happens when kids can scaffold different experiences onto them as they get older and, when you have multiple ages in one place, being sure the families can stay together.

“Materials are a big deal in children’s museums. In GWTF, the water tables are stainless steel. Wherever we have a situation where there’s going to be high wear, we like to use stainless steel. And then we use a material called HDPE, a high-density polyethylene plastic, which was developed for the marine industry, meaning it’s great for water applications. It’s super durable and easy to clean. Boss Display, the fabricator of both spaces, suggested we finish the ‘Ramp Up’ ball-fall in a colored, spray-on finish that’s used in industrial applications or high-abuse situations. What I love about it is how it covers all the surfaces, the corners, there are no seams, no edges that can get chipped. Kids are so enthusiastic when they use interactive exhibits, and they just do the most unexpected things that, as a designer, they definitely keep you on your toes.

“The murals that Rachel Gloria Adams created are graphically beautiful and very sophisticated, and really add an energy to the spaces. They have a kind of drama to them. The large, iconographic shapes—I think kids will love exploring the visual patterns.

“I can’t tell you how much fun it is to be in a space that you’ve worked on for years. The best thing is when kids are there, and I sit and listen to their conversations—it’s just incredible.”

—Greg Belew, principal, designer & architect at Hands On! Studio

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