Camp Cowabunga! Emeritus Director Describes New Exhibit at the Topeka Zoo

Former Topeka Zoo director, Gary Clarke, describes the kids’ activities we’ve developed at the new Camp Cowabunga exhibit. The exhibit will be based on the nearly 200 African safaris he guided. The exhibit will open in the summer of 2018. Studio Tectonic is providing the exhibit interactive and visitor experience elements for the project. Overall exhibit planning and architecture is provided by GLMV Architects in Wichita, Kansas.

More about our work on the project can be found on the project page.

Book Release – Heritage and Peacebuilding

Studio Principal, Seth Frankel, was recently published in a new book, “Heritage and Peacebuilding”. The book is part of the Heritage Matters series by the International Centre for Cultural & Heritage Studies.

The book explores one of the most critical issues of our time: whether heritage can contribute to a more peaceful society and future.

Seth’s chapter is formatted as a conversation on his approach and understanding of the role of museum exhibition in peace building.

It’s available for purchase on Amazon.



Traditional Rendering Time-lapse

While Studio Tectonic uses a blend of all-digital techniques for creating renderings of our concepts, we still are fans of hand renderings. This time-lapse shows the finishing touches on a concept for the Kassler Town historical museum and site for Denver Water.

Most of our work these days is created with a blend of 3D rendering and on-screen illustration. It makes editing more streamline and allows for greater manipulation. But even our all-digital techniques are built upon a hand rendering foundation.


Studio Tectonic – Museum Exhibit Traditional Hand Rendering Time-Lapse from Seth Frankel on Vimeo.

Book Release – Fostering Empathy Through Museums

Studio Tectonic Principal, Seth Frankel, contributed a project case study chapter to the just-published book, Fostering Empathy Through Museums (July, 2016, edited by Elif M. Gokcigdem). The chapter is based on the community-wide impacts and efforts around the Chief Niwot – Legend & Legacy exhibition at the Boulder History Museum.

It’s available through and directly from the publisher,



Fostering Empathy through Museums features fifteen case studies with clear take-away ideas, and lessons learned by vividly illustrating a spectrum of approaches in the way museums are currently employing empathy, a critical skill that is relevant to personal, institutional, economical, and societal progress. The need is rapidly growing for empathy to serve as a lens through which we find our purpose and connection in a complex world. This demand brings with it an appetite to cultivate it through safe and trusted platforms. Museums are uniquely equipped to undertake this important mission. This book will help museum staff and leadership at all levels working at a variety of museums (from animal sanctuaries to art museums, from historic house museums to children’s and science museums) to better understand the multitude of ways how empathy can be cultivated, and employed in museum setting.

Upcoming Book – Fostering Empathy Through Museums

Seth Frankel, Studio Tectonic’s principal, is a contributing author to a new professional book entitled Fostering Empathy Through Museums. Published by Rowman & Littlefield, the book release is scheduled for Spring, 2016, around the time of the American Alliance of Museums conference.

For more about the book from the editor Elif Gokcigdem, please go to: Fostering Empathy Book

Seth’s chapter looks at:

Interpreting Arapaho Chief Niwot – Complex Pasts in Contemporary Community

Street, buildings and towns throughout the community of Boulder County, Colorado are named after 19th Century forebears. They exist largely without question and often ignore the histories for which they are named. Native American names romantically pay homage to a people long removed by force. European names sit in recognition of a complex blend of progress and brutality.

Chief Niwot, a deeply astute Arapaho leader who’s people suffered in the ever shifting politics and public opinion of the Civil War era saw his efforts for his people’s future destroyed through massacre and displacement. Using wide-ranging exhibition, performance, public programs and multicultural community dialogue the contemporary legacy of this history became a centerpiece for embracing our role and responsibility today as inheritor’s of a not-so-easily-summed-up multifaceted past.


AAM Session Accepted : Empathy & Evil: Moving Beyond ‘Good-guy/Bad-guy’ Narratives

Seth Frankel is leading a panel at the May, 2016 AAM Conference in Washington DC. The session title is Empathy & Evil: Moving Beyond ‘Good-guy/Bad-guy’ Narratives. Seth will be presenting with colleagues Mark Katrikh (Museum of Tolerance, CA), Dr. Adam Nilsen (Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, CA) and Sarah Pharaon (International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, NYC). Over 440 proposals were received for the conference. We’re honored to have been selected.

The session will appeal to museum educators, planners, curators, developers and designers.


Museums are tasked with unpacking complex social narratives in order to accurately document conflict and actively further public understanding. Even seemingly benign narratives are often told through the eyes of an oversimplified “good guy” and “bad guy.” This reduction is rarely accurate and may, in fact, be harmful: victims get presented as powerless and victimizers as non-human monsters.

Through example exhibitions, programs, and research, panelists and participants will explore theories and approaches for pushing beyond such one-dimensional portrayals of difficult history and contemporary conflict, with the goal of encouraging audiences to engage with social complexity and more fully envision their role as agents in social progress.

Purely Fun – Tube to Work Day

Why would anyone ride a tube down a river to get to work? Well, it’s just plain silly fun! Zach and Seth donned their wetsuits and joined in the City of Boulder’s 6th Annual Tube to Work Day with about 200 others.

Happy commuting!

Before getting wet in proper water play attire

Before getting wet in proper water play attire

Seth showing his commuter style

Seth showing his commuter style

Exhibit Booth Made of Paper

At the recent National Association for Interpretation conference in Denver, we designed and fabricated our expo hall booth nearly entirely from recycled cardboard. Using 1″ thick packing honeycomb pads we cut the large sheets into strips and stacked/hot glued the pieces together leaving room for photos and some LED strip lighting. Text was applied of lettering from our vinyl cutter. Plywood boxes were fabricated to serve as bases to add weight and stability for the five vertical sections.

The standing desk was constructed out of five sheets of material and all fit together with no glue or hardware. Two sheets were shaped for the top and we left a little space for hiding keyboards, papers and junk. The whole desk packed flat and went together in a few minutes. Total weight was about four pounds and easily held up to abuse with lots of nice water marks from coffee cups! We cut slots in the top to hold business cards and our handouts.

The entire booth received great attendee reviews…especially the desk. In fact, we had about five offers to buy it. In the end we donated it to NAI for their live auction after they inquired about putting it up for bidding.

Recycled, recyclable exhibit booth designed and built by Studio Tectonic for the National Associate for Interpretation conference in Denver

Recycled, recyclable exhibit booth designed and built by Studio Tectonic for the National Association for Interpretation conference in Denver

Tips on Use of a Multiple Languages in Exhibits

Wide ranging cultural institutions often wrestle with when and how to use multiple languages in their exhibitions. As well they should. Any institution, except for those in the most homogenous areas, need to be asking how their use of language embraces, pushes away or ignores visitor needs. This is also not a static analysis but rather important to understanding audience engagement with each new and aging exhibit.

An interpretive sign in Denmark includes three languages in dense copy and becomes a vast Baltic Sea of type.


In some regions, such as Montreal, choice isn’t an option but rather dictated by law (English and French). In other areas and institutions there aren’t governing rules, but rather exhibit language is a matter of common practice. However, most institutions are left somewhere in-between without a hard and fast policy or even obvious direction on the use of additional languages.

Through our work with institutions around the world, we’ve advised that issues around language be considered at the early conceptual phase of planning an new exhibit. Sometimes there’s a bit of pushback…that the subject really isn’t important until writing copy and designing panels and media components or that their just isn’t a need to examine that part of visitor communication. We find, though, that by including language discussions early on, the exploration of audience needs is brought upfront through these discussions. We all want our exhibits to be inclusive and Read more »