Colorado State University – Department of Biology

Colorado State University – Department of Biology

Within its new, state-of-the art building, the Department of Biology endeavors to immerse its students, faculty and public in the passion and power of biology. Conceived originally as branding displays, Studio Tectonic led the department and university stakeholders/planners in a process of envisioning how exhibits could provide inspiration, make emotional connections, create intrigue and be both artful and based in academic rigor. The exhibits line the public halls adjacent to lecture halls, student labs and administrative offices.

The exhibits reference and collaborate with the interior finishes and approach of the architect. Yet the forms and design pulls away from the background to position itself as a clear focus within the 151,000 sq. ft. building. The exhibit design references biological forms, but are interpreted in clear geometries. The design team completed a full inventory of the department’s collection which provided a baseline of objects for materials displays. Additional objects were identified and purchased or newly commissioned. Each area within the displays connects to broader biological themes such as: scale, information flow, reproduction. A pattern language in design uses large circles of metal-edged beetle kill pine to establish the location. Area text is extruded from the pine and pushes through graphics and object cases. Exactly proportioned ovals become the visual communication center of painstakingly selected images that express the breadth of biology’s life forms – from molecular to planetary. Embedded object cases within the images feature a singular expression that subtly provides a challenge to interpret – with no written suggestion, empowering observation and conceptual thinking. Large backlit object cases feature the collection in artfully mounted assemblies. Smaller interpretive locations provide near poetic expressions of biological thinking.

Subtle humor and engagement become small moments of surprise. A bee becomes activated in its communication dance as passerbys flick the dimensional interactive mounted to a hive scene. Giant sperm attempts to attach themselves to the oval display in a section on reproduction. A Volkswagen Beetle finds its place in a migration of mounted insects. A “sawed in half” back-of-house collections cabinet finds a new home in a glass case. Hallways and small gathering spaces include metal-edged, oval glass writing walls with digitally printed underlays that further express playful interpretation of biological science and study, some with object mounted underneath. A two-story space includes iconic visuals and a reverse use of the circle forms to create negative space that’s illuminated with color transitioning LED edge lighting.

Connecting the display design to the building systems, Studio Tectonic also provided design and planning of the wayfinding systems throughout the five floors.

In all, the displays express an extreme level of attention to detail and clarity of thinking. Challenging its audience, the exhibits provide inspiration and wonder for those just embarking on their biological education… and become a confirmation of their mastery through their years of study – being seen through the new lens of daily growing education.

This is perhaps the first of its kind; the integration of exhibit display within deeply integrated higher education teaching spaces. The project is a shining example of when true partnership at all levels is championed.

Project Team
Studio Tectonic (exhibit designer and planner)
Haselden Construction / Hord Coplan Macht Architects (design/build team)
Acme Scenic and Display (exhibit fabricator)
Hefferan Lighting Partnership (exhibit lighting)
Avalis Wayfinding (wayfinding fabricator)