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Designing for memorial- the art of telling a story

The Space program is full of spectacular stories. Like those made popular by Hollywood in major motion pictures like Apollo 13 and the recent box office hit, Hidden Figures, there are stories to be told that will resonate with generations to come. While these specific stories had happy endings, not all of those worth being told had the ending NASA and all of America hoped for.

From its maiden voyage in 1961 to the shuttle’s final touchdown in 2011, many sacrifices were made by our heroes, the American astronauts. The progress of the space program did not come without hardships and setbacks, and many astronauts had to pay the ultimate sacrifice. During recent years, BRPH was honored to be part of the design and building team of two memorials at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Designing these memorials was extremely emotional for the families of the fallen astronauts, as expected. What wasn’t expected was the emotional affect designing these memorials would have on the design team. Designing for memorial is an honor not all architects will have the opportunity to experience, and I’m happy to have spent the past several years devoting my day-to-day job to honoring our American astronauts.

The purpose

The memorials we designed are not meant to be somber. They were designed to remember and revere, and to also look toward the future. To give the next generation hope of what is to come of space exploration. The most important part of designing memorials is to be respectful and honest about the stories being told.

The stories need to come alive, and this is achieved by making sure all of the elements are researched to a “t” and portrayed in the most realistic manner. The story is further told by integrating the architecture and engineering with the show components, such as video and audio. Utilizing technology, we bring visitors to a state where they feel like they know those being memorialized on a personal level, and understand why and how they gave their life for space exploration.

The Hall of Remembrance in the Forever Remembered Memorial at Kennedy Space Center.

Forever Remembered Memorial

At the end of the shuttle program, the shuttle Atlantis made its permanent home at the nerve center of the U.S. space program- Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Center wanted to honor Atlantis with a structure that would reflect the majesty of space flight. BRPH was involved in designing the Space Shuttle Atlantis Museum at the KSCVC and a space within the museum was always envisioned to be a memorial for the two shuttles that were lost during our space exploration. The memorial story includes the losses of 14 courageous astronauts and the nation’s first two shuttles, Columbia and Challenger.

NASA and the astronauts’ families collaborated to create a new, permanent memorial designed to honor the crews, pay tribute to the spacecraft and emphasize the importance of learning from the past.

“As you walk in, you know you’re in a special place,” Evelyn Husband-Thompson said of the memorial. Her husband, Rick, commanded Columbia on STS-107

Encompassing nearly 2,000 square feet, the Forever Remembered memorial contains the largest collection of personal items of both flight crews. It also includes recovered hardware from both Challenger and Columbia, never before on display for public viewing. NASA worked closely with the families and the design team to develop the content for the memorial, which was the foundation for its success.

Visitors enter Forever Remembered through a doorway flanked by the STS-51L and STS-107 mission patches. The orbiter and crew are remembered through individual collections lining the walls: Challenger on the left, Columbia on the right. The hall of remembrance includes 14 individual display cases. Each case displays the astronaut’s passions, talents and achievements, allowing their personalities and lives to shine throughout. The visitors get an opportunity to view Husband’s cowboy boots and Bible, a small aircraft Smith hand-carved for his wife, Anderson’s vintage Star Trek lunch box, and a research paper authored by Judy Resnik, displayed alongside sheet music for violin and piano.

At the end of the hall of remembrance, the visitors enter a gallery and are able to see firsthand the toll these events took on the shuttle hardware. A section of Challenger’s fuselage displaying the American flag stands at left; on the right, the flight deck windows of Columbia are placed at eye level. Being able to see these pieces, the visitors are able to understand the trauma each shuttle endured.

A section of Challenger’s fuselage displaying the American flag appears at the Forever Remembered Memorial exhibit.

Apollo 1 Memorial

Most recently, NASA & Delaware North (the managing arm of KSCVC) wanted to create a memorial honoring the three astronauts who gave their lives during the tragic Apollo 1 disaster, in time for the 50th anniversary of the event. The north end of the Saturn V facility was selected as the location for this well-deserved memorial, as the facility and all display cases throughout were designed to meet ventilation and humidity requirements of the Smithsonian Museum guidelines. The design concept was based on honoring these American Heroes as well as taking the viewers through a journey of discovering who these three astronauts were.

The journey begins with the viewers face to face in front of a large image of the three astronauts printed on a half inch temperate glass wall. This type of glass was specifically chosen as it was the safest to use in this application and works well for printed graphics. The intent was for light to shine through both sides of the glass wall, illuminating the image. This worked well by printing the image on the front of the glass, as this is now the beacon of the memorial, attracting visitors from afar to the exhibit.

The Apollo 1 memorial begins with the viewers face to face in front of a large image of the three astronauts who lost their lives during the tragic event.

Guests then enter the memorial space through a symbolic silhouette of the Apollo capsule. As soon as a visitor enters the space, the astronaut display cases are visible. Designed to engage the viewers, each case features a video on an OLED screen that introduces the astronaut to the viewer. When the images fade off, the interior of the cases become visible and the astronaut’s artifacts are showcased. Like Forever Remembered, the content of the images and artifacts are meant to provide a glimpse of the astronauts’ lives and remind us how much they sacrificed for all of us.

Lighting was critical in creating the different effects required to convey a message of reverence, and were strategically placed throughout the memorial to highlight all of the different displays and signage. LED lighting was chosen for its energy quality, color rendition effect, and the ability to place them in very tight, inaccessible spaces. Working within a tight budget, value engineering exercises were implemented to reduce the number of lights while still appropriately illuminating the various components.

Display cases feature personal artifacts from each member of the Apollo 1 crew.

As the visitor continues the journey they then see two display cases of artifacts from the tragedy. The original Apollo 1 hatches are displayed with OLEDs to provide the viewer information about the Apollo mission.

Moving through a circular portal, a fog wall features images of the mission. The fog wall was purposefully used to simulate the fog that comes off of a rocket just as it’s firing up before the astronauts pass from the gantry and into the vehicle. Passing through the fog wall provides the visitors a more immersive experience, engaging the visual and the tactile senses. A purified filtering system was incorporated to allow for the fog wall to operate daily.

Passing through the fog wall the viewers then travel on the original gantry artifact and are able to come face to face with the Apollo 1. A viewing window allows the viewers to see inside the capsule and the three heroes’ suits are displayed in their original position inside.

Working as a team

We view the success of these memorials by gauging the reactions of the families, visitors and all those involved in making the exhibit a reality. Working as a team, small details are discussed and decided upon to meet the needs of all stakeholders. In these situations, we worked closely with NASA to meet their strict guidelines for securing and preserving artifacts, and identified the level of security requirements for each memorial. The display cases are designed for top security with alarms, while providing accessibility for maintenance and upgrading as required. By identifying needs such as this early on, you’re able to design for memorial in the best way possible.

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Posted In: Behind the Scenes
Tagged In: design for memorial, KSC Visitor Complex, Apollo 1
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Nick is a Senior Project Manager serving the firm's Entertainment market. With BRPH for over 15 years, Nick has been the architect of record for high-profile projects at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida, among others.

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