Montshire Museum of Science, Norwich, VT
Earth, Air, Light, and Water…. Revealing the scientific principals associated with these natural phenomena in a fun, imaginative, and engaging landscape for children…. This was the goal of the design of Science Park at the
Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, VT.
For years, children, parents and school groups have flocked to the Montshire Museum of Science to learn about science, particularly ecology and the natural sciences, by partaking in delightful hands-on exhibits. The Museum wanted to extend its environmental curriculum to the outdoors where dozens of hands-on exhibits would explore water, geology, sound, time and natural history.
Science Park began as a flat 2-acre field extending from the Museum’s backdoor. When Montshire decided it wanted to safely lead visitors over a neighboring railroad to its trail system beyond, the landscape architects suggested sculpting the field with a 560’-long winding path that gently descends 22’ through a new tunnel under the tracks. The resulting landforms created a variety of environments with different slopes, orientations, and exposures. These micro-environments – north facing slopes, exposed promontories, and sun-drench open areas - naturally lent themselves to the development of exhibits, such as a Human Sundial, Mist Arm, and Octoscope, that explore microclimate, light, shadow, temperature, and other natural phenomena.
To make Science Park’s experience especially meaningful, design efforts focused on interpreting many of the scientific principles associated with water. The landscape architects used the journey of a drop of water as it flows downhill and gains momentum as a metaphor to guide the design of a series of water exhibits. The resulting large-scale water structures physically respond to Science Park’s sloping landforms while also providing an overarching exhibit theme and a framework into which future exhibits may be placed.
Specific water structures include:
The Headwater Stone, an 8-foot high piece of rose-colored granite, is the genesis of the water display. Like water quietly welling from a mountain spring, a thin sheet of water emanates from the top of the Stone and softly spills down its polished face, onto which is engraved a poem by Leonardo da Vinci.
The Rill, a 200’-long curving watercourse, contains exhibits that explore the patterns and velocities of currents, the reflection and absorption of light, and water pressure as a function of depth. The Rill ends with a 3 foot high “Child Eye-Level Waterfall”.
The Pressure Fountain, symbolizing human intervention in water’s journey downhill consists of 5 vertical steel pipes. By adding PVC plumbing pieces on top of each pipe, kids learn how they can increase the water flow to one pipe by restricting it to others.
The Granite Cascade, the culmination of the water display, steps down a slope and ends in a pool opposite the mouth of the Tunnel. The rectilinear forms and varying step heights create water effects that are fast, loud, and white. Using dams, kids divert water to whirlpools or adjust its flow around boulders. By regulating the amount of water flowing to the “Water Bells”, visitors change the bell shape from fat and round to skinny and wavering.
The landscape architect did not want the site structures to replicate nature. Believing that Science Park was a constructed artifact, the landscape architect instead proposed bold sculptural forms that would encourage a clear reading of the exhibits and the scientific principles they were demonstrating. Natural processes did, however, inform the shapes of the water structures. The landscape architects believed that by understanding how natural processes work, they would be better able to recreate the conditions that would reveal the science associated with those processes. For example, the oxbow river pattern that is created through the natural processes of erosion and deposition inspired the Rill’s overall shape.
The water display system at Montshire, from the Headwater Stone to the Rill, Pressure Fountain and Granite Cascade weaves itself back and forth across the visitor’s path, creating a continuous theme in their experience of Science Park. The experience is further enriched with additional exhibits, including Rock Music, Xylophone Steps, Whisper Dishes, Humming Stones, and a Resonant Pendulum. These exhibits, some of which stand alone, others of which are built into walls, pavement, and other site structures, are all carefully integrated into the landscape. Together, they create an unforgettable and delightful place where people learn about science through active participation.
Landscape Architect-Phase 1-Path Design: Tobias Wolf, Copley Wolff Design Group.
Landscape Architect-Phase 2-Terrace & Exhibit Design: Jane Shoplick, Copley Wolff Design Group
Structural Engineer: Jeff Tirey, Tirey and Associates, P.C., Littleton NH
Contractor: Bread Loaf, Middlebury VT