Museu de les Ciencies (Valencia)

Valencia, Spain. After working for 33 years (happily), on interactive exhibits at the Exploratorium, I have intentionally avoided science museums on this sabbatical. I wanted to push myself beyond the familiar. But this museum was a must visit, in Valencia. It was hard for me to be objective here, I admit. This type of science museum is basically the antithesis of the Exploratorium, philosophically.

The building, by architect Santiago Calatrava, is vast and futuristic like a science fiction movie set. It is infamous with Valencia locals, who are still paying for the original expense, and the repair that it constantly requires. 

The banners at the entry have a "forced" feeling of enthusiasm. This is a predictable formula (Science is FUN!) which just makes me feel sad. 

It's a long way to the ticket counter. This is a grandiose science "monument", where the experience is not only expensive (like many science museums), but hyped up as well.

The mix of exhibitions feels random, perhaps based on funding (?) There are a few dinosaurs, for example, next to a high tech exhibition on self driving cars, and famous Spanish physicists... the exhibition about DNA with chromasonal smoke stacks, looked pretty interesting...

Visitors seemed to be spending most of their time in an exhibition connected (somehow) to Spanish tourism. Perhaps the components were engaging because they were small and familiar. And the space was more intimate.

It feels like a science airport where nothing ever takes off or lands. There's just no sign of a beating heart to the museum, a motive or desire to take the journey.

Leaving the museum requires a long walk, no matter which way you go.

Qui Som? (Barcelona)

Barcelona, Spain. A street photography exhibition without stands. This corner and tunnel area, between a cafe and community garden, has been used as a photo venue for years. Here, a portrait of the neighbors. 


Many of the portraits were "set up" in cardboard boxes

Photos wrap around the architecture in interesting ways.

Street Art (Barcelona)

Barcelona, Spain. Now fully mainstream, the forms have long been neatly categorized. The simple assumption is that Graffiti (vandalism) is destructive, word-based, for other graffiti artists, and Street Art (commissioned) is an improvement, for an audience, image driven, and a strategy for "designing out crime". But intentions are more and more elusive, as Graffiti can be beautiful or vapid, and Street art can be ugly or politically powerful. Complicated by the fact that it's a required element, inside or out, to make a neighborhood "hip". Even if the motive is just arty ambiance or a cool form of marketing.

L'Hospital Sant Pau (Barcelona)

Barcelona, Spain. Dating back to 1401, this site is one of the oldest healthcare institutions in Europe. Architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner later designed this compound of hospital buildings from 1901—1930. To me, it has all the organic magic of Gaudi, but with more reserve and continuity. No longer used as a hospital, some of the pavilions have been renovated, with exhibition areas.

The lower floor focuses on the history of medicine in Barcelona. Visitors enter through one of the tiled tunnels, connecting the buildings from underneath, and the first thing they see are fleeting projected views of hospital activity slipping around the rounded corners of the hallways.

A circular intro room shows the same horizontal video on each side, the images meeting in the center in a not quite kaleidoscopic way. Seating wraps around the room, allowing one side for viewing each language.

The display furniture uses glass and the same sea green as the tile ceiling.


The upstairs exhibition focuses on the Moderniste architect Montaner, who was also a scholar, and idealogue. The first impression is astonishing. And the first distraction is the projector stand.

The exhibition was designed by set designer Ignasi Cristia. Apparently the concept of a dragon, a symbol popular with the Modernistes, is the method to the madness. 

It appears to crawl down the center of the space, on delicate tangled legs, with many overlapping wings, as if it were emerging from a tile cocoon.

Black & white monitors at the far end show animated sketches. A set of touch screens feature the architect's full body of work.

Videos are projected directly on the patterned tiled walls. Gentle music adds to the other worldy mood.

A view of the construction inside the spine of the dragon.


It seems like an indulgent way to present architecture that is already exciting enough. A sculptural exhibition design where form and content (or architect and exhibition designer?) are dancing wildly. In any doesn't really bite... 

This wonderful hall, in another pavilion, is probably used for small events. The historic image extends the room.

David Bowie Is (Barcelona)

Barcelona, Spain. Museo Disseny. "David Bowie Is" ... a retrospective exhibition curated and designed by the London V&A, with 300 objects including lyrics, photo, film, music, costumes, fashion, set designs, instruments, album cover designs, etc. Honestly I was relieved that photography was not allowed in this exhibition. Happily I was free to put on the awesome audio tour and roam freely without documenting anything! David Bowie was a multi-dimensional artist, and so is the exhibition. The hallway outside the entry featured a line up of big photos

It's often a challenge for the receiving venue to match the font of the traveling exhibitions. Sometimes it's hard to understand when the feeling of the typography doesn't carry through.

"David Bowie Is"... also a playful title that is used in endless ways. 

Funny, the nick names for buildings. The Museo Disseny is also called the "Stapler". Once you hear it you can't think of it any other way. Sorry.

Outdoor exhibition on large cubes, (about 10') The leveling feet add a nice detail

Fenomen Fotollibre (Barcelona)

Barcelona, Spain. The CCCB cultural center is where I saw a truly overwhelming exhibition on the photobook phenomena. First though, what I love about the building. The windows form the typography.

The inside courtyard is an example of daring old-meets-new architecture, with some fun reflections. 

The old window alcoves are natural for exhibition posters.

Teens were using the courtyard space to practice dance routines.

The exhibition entry was totally uninspired. 

Maybe that's because the exhibition is very complicated and thorough, with 500 books, 9 curators, 7 contemporary artists, and 7 tantalizing themes. The main photobook history is curated by Martin Parr, and leads the visitor from the entry, through and around all the other themes. 

One of the stated goals of the exhibition is to address the challenge of displaying books. Methods they use include actual pages or original photos wall mounted and valuable books displayed open under glass. They also provide various sized touch screens with page spreads.

They also use back projections (from the floor up) of videos of page spreads.

And wall mounted videos of page spreads, some with hands turning the pages

And there are some actual books to flip through by hand.

There is enough variety in all these methods to keep visitors engaged.

The exhibit exits through a comfortable lounge area with a browsable books. Tables there are multi-level and the books are board mounted to carry around.

An "air drop" in the protest and propaganda area.

Backlit title and delicate treatment for the Japanese photobooks

The "Fascinations and Failures" theme was explored in interesting ways. Considering the value of "mistakes"

As a graphic designer who loves to collaborate with photography and photographers, the most exciting part was "Reading New York", a "PhotoBookStudy" on William Klein's famous 1956 photobook "Life is Good and Good for You in New York." (PhotoBookStudies are investigations made through The PhotoBookMuseum in Cologne, Germany.) Described as a "rhizomatic mapping," it is a "contemplation on the reading process, merging the chronological reading experience with simultaneous visual and associative stimulation".  

This is an analysis done by "readers" long after a (breakthrough) photobook was published. But it's familiar, because it's what we do (photographer and designer) collaborating on the making of a book. It's the discussions we have working with photos and text, making associations and choices about content, discovering order. Playing with contrast, grouping, themes, patterns and pacing. I consider it the real work of graphic design, enhanced by layout and typography. So, it thrilled me to see this graphic design thinking process visualized in an exhibition, for the public. 

The exhibition was linear, running around the room. Here are a few details.

Born Memories (Barcelona)

Barcelona, Spain. "Born. Memories d'un Mercat" is a permanent exhibition recently installed in the El Born Centre Cultural. This famous market building, designed by Antoni Rovira i Trias, was closed in 1971 and re-born in 2013, revealing archeological findings discovered during the renovation. 

The exhibition designers used two things to unify the market story with the current architecture. The slatted siding, and a stencil version of the center's font. The two ideas combine naturally in "labeling" and wooden market crates, which are piled outside the entry.

Also outside the entry, the idea of memory is introduced with a mirror enclosed alcove containing an old market cart. Like memories, the outside form may disappear, but the inside meaning can go on forever.

Wooden crates and stencil fonts are cliche, but in this case they are truly appropriate and treated beautifully. Added to this is the colorful imagery of produce, with it's (timeless) vitality.

Crates form the enclosure walls and seating. The produce adds the color and life.

Crate walls are softened with muslin on one side, allowing bits of light to come through.

The big scale of the floor produce draws you in.

In this open area, the produce images are actual size and elevated to table tops (surrounding intimate story monitors). The floor has a cobbled treatment. The perfect choice of photo mural integrates with the building seen through the window. A sense of scale, contrast, and design restraint all come together here.

The story of the building's architecture is in a slightly separated space, using scaffolding structure and red curtains. 

The main space is flanked by a large mural at either end, scaled to resonate with the building. The effect is indoors out, human scale, enlivened by sound and bits of color.

Along the back wall, a detailed market history follows a sequence of letter shaped (B O R N) windows.

Probably to liven things up, in relation to the produce, bright color is used in some of the text blocks.

Historic photos were carefully chosen and placed. Three stand up 3D photo stations, are comfortably big and working well with mirrors.

The exhibition feels seamless, from the inside story to the outside building. A clean sensibility for history.

Outside the exhibition space, a few exhibition signs are "delivered" along the walkways.

Finally, there is a public memory collection station near one building entry

Kiosk with instructions for submitting photos and videos

The busy display of hanging photos nearby helps stimulate ideas for contributions.

Weird Is Wonderful (Barcelona)

Barcelona, Spain. The annual summer Grec Festival got it's name from it's venue, an abandoned Greek Theater in Montjuic. The festival includes theater, dance, music and circus events. Recently they updated their logo. The horns on the "E" are a nod to the "Fawn" (or Pan) that has always been part of their identity.

This year they chose to use birds in their event graphic design. Not sure why, but why not?  A brilliant idea, as these are likable birds. Arty. Soulful. And she has her hand in his pocket.

The ticket office trailer

Here are the birds lined up, posing for the website. They're beautifully photographed, and stunning as full page portraits in the oversized catalog.

Museu de la Xocolata (Barcelona)

Barcelona, Spain. The (mx) museum is promoted by the Gremi de Pattisseria de Barcelona, across the courtyard, who focus on quality innovation in traditional Catalan chocolate and pastry techniques. Because it has to be intensely air conditioned, it's a cold museum! The ticket is edible. 

After scanning their chocolate bars at the turnstile, next to the chocolate fountain, most visitors unwrap them right away as they enter the exhibition. Eating (anything) in an exhibition space is unusual, so this feels like a strange treat.

Needless to say, the museum attracts all ages. And for obvious reasons, graphic design and cabinet and floor colors use a cream and dark brown palette.

The focus of the museum is very ambitious, so it can only touch lightly on many of the themes. The origin of chocolate, it's spread as an element between myth and reality, it's arrival in Europe, and it's medicinal and nutritional properties. Text is in Catalan, Spanish, French, and English, so font size is small and legibility is an issue. Titles are too high, against dark upper cabinet frames. Funny cabinet feet.

Here the chocolate bonbon bowl is cleverly placed, in front of the painting. 

A special focus on the regional tradition of Catalan festival cakes includes a touch screen station with recipes.

Highly designed video rooms are also over-sized. Because it takes a while for the video to start (based on language chosen) many visitors leave thinking it's not working.

The Aztec video projection seems lost on this stone monument

The chocolate production video is well tucked in.

A (somewhat) separate story at the museum is a path of big chocolate sculptures, starting at the entry, and threading mostly along the outside walls. From Spanish themes to animals and mythology to leggos to movie characters... it seems to get more outrageous as it proceeds.

Visitors find out why when they come to a cooking theater at the back of the museum, the home of a prestigious annual chocolate competition.


The last corridor is lined with chocolate tools and equipment, molds and other periphernalia. When the graphic design is rigidly consistent throughout an entire museum, I always wonder when just one piece (this yellow panel) is different. Unfortunately, this kind of consistency once established, must be obeyed to the bitter end.

The courtyard wall across from the pastry school.

Visitors exit full circle to the cafe and chocolate store that is also the ticket counter. This is one version of "museum as product sales" that is somehow tolerable. Perhaps because it's so overt, it has some innocence. Chocolate, after all is a natural before or after pick-me-up on the arduous museum trail. Which is why the edible ticket is so appreciated.


Molt Amor Por Fer (Barcelona)

Barcelona, Spain. "Much Love to Make" is a temporary installation in Placa Reial, put on by the city to coincide with the Gay Pride Festival. It commemorates a protest held here in 1977 as a milestone in the struggle for sexual freedom. The fountain in Placa Reial is the central hub for tourist crowds in Bari Gotic. 4 free-standing panels surround it, in Catalan and English. 

"Your face here" openings are an invitation to sympathetic experience and solidarity, as well as a photo op.

When I first arrived, the graffiti vandalism was relatively minor. It seemed to be aimed at the exhibition itself, but whether the intention was hateful or just opportunistic was unclear. In any case, an altered outdoor exhibition is more disturbing than the usual altered advertising or other street signage.

Over the course of 3 weeks I watched the graffiti vandalism increase, now more clearly unrelated to the content of the exhibition.

Grafitti vandalism adds a disturbing random layer to the narrative. Street exhibitions are unprotected, vulnerable stories thrown out into the cruel world. The effect is sometimes surreal, raising side questions and suggesting unintended layers of meaning. Looks like more love is needed.

Graphic Design (Cluj)

Cluj Napoca, Romania. Signage

Old Eastern European logos have a special flair and sensitivity in the shaping. Most of them have disappeared, since 1989.

Some poster examples. Cluj is an important center for music and theater.

Some street wayfinding.

Mascots for "Orange Pre Pay" 

Tombstone Typography