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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The work presented here could not have been made possible without the support and guidance of countless individuals. To my professor, Chantal Trudel, thank you for providing structure while the world outside of class was so chaotic. Your encouragement, empathy, and flexibility kept us all motivated through what could otherwise have been a challenging and lonely year. To my Teaching Assistant, Sophie Nakashima, I don’t know how you do it; your organizational skills kept us on track and aware of everything we needed to know, so thank you. To everyone at Ingenium, thank you for making time for us, for making us feel like the work we are doing is important, and for your constant willingness to help. To Dr. Matt Menard, Carla Ayukawa, and Stewart Bailey, thank you for always showing up and for your honest and helpful feedback. And to everyone else who helped along the way, be it by allowing me to ask you questions that you’re probably now tired of answering, or by being my guinea pig when I needed to test out an idea, thank you.


PROJECT SCOPE Cultural institutions have historically served as places for people to come together and learn about their collective history. Their goals of teaching, sharing, and appreciating have inspired visitors for decades. Now, these same institutions are suffering and are facing tremendous challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides their cultural benefits, museums provide visitors with psychological wellbeing, subjective well-being, and restoration (Kirchberg & Tröndle, 2012). This is important for individuals’ mental health and self-actualization, particularly in a time when the future is so uncertain.


This Thesis work focuses on how we may safeguard museums and cultural institutions, as they continue to struggle as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The project also focuses on ways that social isolation may be mitigated through community and shared experiences, as well as methods of safe gathering for visitors to engage with museum content and with each other.










This project was completed in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, making traditional field research methods limited. Similarly, insights were rarely found in books and academic papers, but rather in Podcasts, Webinars, and Zoom conversations with real people. Back when the project started in September of 2020, many institutions had recently reopened their doors – allowing the team to conduct 9 site visits in various parts of Canada and South Korea. To support these auto-ethnographic site visits, we also conducted an initial online survey that received 20 responses to gauge the public’s experiences visiting museums with these new restrictions in place. To go even deeper, we were fortunate enough to be able to interview 4 visitors about their experience in different galleries and museums, 4 different people working in institutions and overseeing some of the COVID-19 changes and responses, as well as 2 subject matter experts that shared some insights and connected us to more people in the industry.






Museums are struggling both in maintaining their doors open and instilling public trust. COVID-19 has affected many areas of the museum experience, most notably how content is accessed and the design of museum spaces (Billock, 2020). There is also rising concern that museums becoming “no-touch” environments in order to minimize contact will regress decades of progress in introducing multisensory features into museums (Jacobs, 2020). Things are rapidly changing, and cultural institutions have had to strategize, plan, and fail during this process. Another problem area is that of minimized reach to vulnerable communities; the museum industry already historically skews to privileged populations, and there will now be even less career opportunities and community outreach efforts that would normally benefit lower socio-economic groups (Princeton University, 2020). These problem areas are not new, but have however been augmented by the added challenges that COVID-19 poses.




Socially, people are finding it more challenging and stressful to come together in the same way they used to. There is now less freedom and more information for people to go through (Jacobs, 2020). Even before the pandemic, public-health experts were concerned about what they refer to as a “loneliness epidemic”. Social isolation as a driver of loneliness has been reinforced during the current situation (Andriote, 2020). Roughly a third of American adults report feeling lonelier than usual since lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were instated (Ducharme, 2020). Technologies like video-conferencing, social media, and others have attempted to fill in this gap, but the innate need to see people and interact with others has yet to be fulfilled. Even minimal social encounters have been compromised by the implementation of masks, physical distancing measures, and a general anxiety of being in public spaces – a certain amount of freedom (of body and mind) has been taken away from people.





Museums have the means to provide collective imagery, relieve visitors of feelings of isolation, and can convey to them that others share their experiences, enhancing self-esteem, confidence, creativity and intellectual stimulation (Patmali, 2017). They can provide a sense of community and place by celebrating a collective heritage (Carlsson, 2020), and may do so through community engagement programs, and exhibit co-curation. There is an opportunity to challenge institutions to rethink their traditional definition of exhibitions, their location, format, forms of interaction, and objects on display – museums could look to transform everyday places into sites of engagement, reflection, healing, activism, and informal learning (Thorne-Christy, 2020). These types of new formats can reduce barriers for more people to get interested and see value in museums, as well as help institutions get more involved with the community and the causes that are important to them. When it comes to interaction, there is now a push to move past the “empty interactions” traditionally facilitated by touch-based technology, like push buttons and flip labels (Elsner, 2020), and embrace the emergence of “gesture-controlled interactives” (Wong, 2020).


Design Development

It quickly became clear that any design solution would have to fulfill a number of criteria: • be flexible and adaptable to different COVID-19 regulations, and for postCOVID use • facilitate safe interactions with museum content and between visitors • take changed social behaviours into consideration, as not everyone feels the same when in public • move away from tactile interactions • engage communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access to museum content


The concepts explored ranged from ways of engaging multiple visitors in shared interactions, to ways of facilitating outreach opportunities. A key area that emerged was how space and display design plays an important role in how museum content can be experienced, and how people may feel comfortable while together. The concept then began to shift towards an outdoor exhibit.


Design Development

I conducted a set of tests in order to better understand people’s perception of a concept like this and to validate emerging ideas. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, testing took the form of technology and material explorations, limited in-person testing with household members, as well as an online survey available for people to evaluate concepts created with digital tools. The goals of testing were: to refine the design requirements; gauge public interest, understand ease of navigation, and recommendations as to what makes a spatial layout feel comfortable and safe; and explore the possibilities and limitations of gesture-control sensors and projecting technology.






Design Development

There are certain design considerations in museum and gallery spaces that have been shown to foster social and emotional accessibility, inclusivity, and connectedness. For instance, when an artifact hangs from the ceiling, it allows groups of people to circle around it and creates a sense of open, yet private, space for sharing (Green et al., 2019). With this in mind, I set out to create simulation spaces for people to imagine themselves walking through. From the responses of an online survey, three key insights came to light: people generally feel more comfortable in open areas, they feel that a curved flow between separate areas is more natural, and they prefer to have more, clear path options. By analyzing their rankings on various Likert scales comparing the different concepts, it became clear that the ones preferred were also the ones that best followed those design elements.


Additional tests were conducted with three members of my household, in which they were tasked with tracing the path they’d take in each of the spaces. From these, behavioural maps showed the flows that made most sense to people, but also pointed out how different people’s behaviours are, even when “walking through” a simulated image like the ones they were presented with. Some made a clear effort to “avoid” the “people” in their path, reinforcing the need to consider changing behaviours due to new physical distancing measures.


Design Development

After these tests, I went back to these spatial layouts wondering what factors may have contributed to very clear and repeated preferences.


Proxemics refers to human behaviour in space. This is highly dependent on context, yet somehow we always seem to have a sense of our ‘personal space’ – a ‘psychological bubble’ that surrounds us wherever we go (Pheasant & Haslegrave, 2005). There are four concentric zones surrounding the individual associated with a class of social interaction: intimate (up to 450 mm), personal (450 to 1200 mm), social (1200 to 3500 mm) and public (over 3500 mm) (Hall, 1969). These zones, however, are not sharply defined, but rather naturally merge into one another and vary for different spaces and contexts. This field is especially interesting in the context of COVID-19, as people seem to be even more aware of their personal space and the role others play in it, as shown by the testing. As a form of backwards analysis, I returned to the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ spatial layouts and tested how effective they were at allowing a comfortable 2m physical distance for all visitors, and a wider distance closer to Hall’s ‘social’ distance for those who feel less comfortable around others. This exercise made it clear that successful concepts would better take this into consideration and allow for more comfortable person-person interactions in the space.


Design Development

An appropriate and well considered use of technology was another important aspect of the concepts I was exploring. Although certain technologies (like smartphones and touchscreens) have become more widely available in recent years, others like motion tracking and gesture-based interaction may be new for the vast majority of users. My interest in using these technologies for my project also made me interested in the understandability and usability of them, especially for users encountering them for the very first time. In order to better understand this, I set up a low-fidelity prototype of what an interaction like this might look like (using a Leap Motion Controller connected to a hidden projector). I then invited 3 participants to use the prototype however they saw fit, with no clear direction or instruction. Video-recordings of the interactions allowed me to identify common behaviours, points of frustration, and what participants did to get around those.


Generally, participants were confused, frustrated, and unsure of how to interact with the system. All 3 were eventually able to use it, but the time it took for each varied from as short as 30 seconds to 3.5 minutes. For this reason, I pivoted to use a different, more widely recognized technology—the Microsoft Kinect. The advantages of this technology over a hand-gesture one are that it can detect full-body motion and has less constraints for it to work effectively, thus making it more intuitive and universally accessible.


Design Development

A large portion of the project involved my own exploration and evaluation of different technology and material possibilities and limitations. Projection tests with different materials and surfaces gave me a better understanding of what works best and what the limitations are when it comes to large-scale projected content, especially when outdoors. The results from these tests suggest that mesh fabrics, such as light tulle, work just as effectively as designated projector screens, but are lighter, cheaper, and have a certain level of transparency. This finding pointed me in the direction of looking for innovative materials that are similar to this fabric, but that have been engineered to produce high-quality images even when in daylight. This constraint was also addressed by an extensive search for an affordable projector that could perform effectively in the desired lighting conditions.



SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE As testing revealed, people’s comfort levels in public spaces vary significantly, and understandably so. While some people feel safe being around others, other people tend to feel more anxious, often deterring them from going to public spaces in the first place. Even outdoors, it is important for design solutions regarding COVID-19 not only to adhere to public health and safety regulations, but to consider these varied and changing levels of comfortability.

Final Design

Cohesion is designed to provide separation between areas that require different levels of interaction, thus ensuring that people who feel less comfortable around others are never in situations where they feel forced to be too close to them. This also allows people to move freely between areas, while still giving them clear paths and the ability to avoid the ones they do not wish to get close to. The pavilion is split into three areas: (1) Observation; for those who would rather keep their distance and watch content from afar (2) Interaction; for those who would like to step into an immersive visual experience and interact with gesture-based content (3) Discussion; for those not looking to necessarily engage in an activity, but would still like to connect with other people in a safe manner


Engage in touch-less interactive activities, like body painting or getting immersed in a scene. Have discussions (with friends or strangers) reflecting on what you’ve seen at the exhibit, or just share what books you’ve been devouring during quarantine. If you’re not quite ready to be around people again just yet, take it slow and observe from afar. Transparent walls allow you to still see what others are up to. There’s something for everyone to enjoy.


Final Design

Every museum is different, and so is every site. With so much uncertainty in the world, it is important that design solutions remain flexible and can adapt to changing circumstances. Cohesion is designed to fit into any space that it is put into, be it the museum courtyard, a public park, or an open field in a rural area. The three circular structures can be moved, rotated, and switched, depending on the site’s elements and obtrusions, like trees, statues, benches, etc. Even when already set-up, the arrangement of the different structures can be changed. This is valuable in cases where public health and safety regulations become more rigorous; instead of having to close down the pavilion completely, it can be adapted to allow more space between the structures and therefore allow people to practice physical distancing more effectively.


The pavilion can get its power in three different ways, making it fully adaptable, and even selfsufficient if needed. (1) A cable can be run directly to a nearby institution or public generator (2) Solar power can be generated by installing 350W panels on the structure’s roof. A solar generator and/or battery can be stored inside the bottom base. Alternatively, a gas generator can also be stored in this base, with no extra cost for panels (3) Solar or gas generators can also be stored at a separate location (like a shed or van) for convenience, maintenance, or noise reduction. A cable can be run to this secondary location

Its adaptable nature allows Cohesion to be ready for use in different circumstances. If a museum feels forced to close their doors, they can install this pavilion outside their institution, for visitors to still get a glimpse of the museum experience, only in an outdoor, safe format.

It can also be set-up in remote locations, allowing communities that otherwise would not have access to a museum still enjoy the experience, bridging the existing gap between institutions and the community.


Final Design

As museums realize the importance and benefits of engaging with the community and listening to their needs, institutions are looking for different ways in which they might get the community involved in their work. However, as pointed out by a representative at Ingenium, the challenge of leveraging community-driven programming prevents these initiatives from ever taking off.


Cohesion utilizes the power of social media to more informally jump-start community initiatives and facilitate opportunities for co-creation and visitor engagement. From the very start of the process, museum curators can use social media and reach out to the community to call for submissions of visitorgenerated content. People could create something responding to a prompt shared by the museum, following a pre-determined exhibit theme, or could simply share their work for it to be displayed at the pavilion. This also amplifies the voices of local artists, and gives communities a sense of ownership over their shared heritage and culture.

TOUCH-LESS INTERACTION As with many public spaces, high-touch areas in museums have become a point of anxiety for many visitors, and have been predominantly off-limits since the start of the pandemic. Because of this, museums are now looking at alternatives that will maintain or even augment the current level of engagement.

Final Design

Cohesion pairs large-scale projections with motion tracking, resulting in an immersive, touch-less form of interaction with exhibition content. By installing Kinect v2 Motion Sensors into the base of the pavilion, visitors can seamlessly wave, dance, point, and move their body in order to engage with what they see on screen. Every museum has the flexibility of choosing what content is available, depending to what is most appropriate to the institution and the specific exhibit. Some examples of what museums could add are: live painting, panning through a scene, imitating a subject, etc.


EASY INSTALLATION Because this pavilion is meant to be moved around and adapted to different sites, it is important that the building process is fast, cost-effective, and easy to undo. The structure has been designed to be installed in a series of steps for each key area: (1) the wooden base is laid out, structural millwork elements are bolted or screwed in place, sandbags are attached to inner framing, base tops and caps are bolted with tamper-resistant hardware for a safe, seamless seal (2) the framing composed of aluminum extrusions and a central projector hub is assembled using corner brackets and bolts, structural metal components are placed on top of all three post points, roof channels (four pieces that form a ring) are placed on top and bolted in place

Final Design

(3) a sub-assembly of two copper tubes connected by the projector screen is attached in tension between the base and roof structures using routing clamps


(4) a circular tarp is placed on top of roof structure and bolted into position


Final Design

Cohesion is installed outdoors, and is therefore exposed to the elements on a daily basis. Additionally, in order to minimize the need for maintenance and part replacement, it is important that the structure is designed with these constraints in mind. Careful consideration has been taken to ensure that the pavilion is able to stand on its own and perform adequately for the duration of the exhibition. I also consulted with experts in this field to ensure that industry standards were being met.


The base has an inner steel and lumber structure weighted down by sandbags, and is covered by marine-grade plywood panels to ensure a tight, water-resistant seal. A sloped waterproof tarp covers the structure, and water build-up can then be drained by way of a drainage hole array that extends along the edge of the roof, creating a “rain curtain” around the structure. This effect not only ensures proper drainage and water management, but it makes Cohesion appear interesting and monumental in all conditions.

52 Technical Drawings

54 Technical Drawings

56 Technical Drawings

58 Technical Drawings


Final Design

Building a 1:60 scale model allowed me to explore material options, get a sense of the human scale and interaction, as well as better understand what the building process might look like when both manufacturing and installing the pavilion. A concrete base with slight ridges and imperfections represents a natural landscape, and reiterates the possibility for Cohesion to be installed even in the most remote of places.


BIBLIOGRAPHY Andriote, J. (2020, September 02). COVID-19 Blew Up an ‘Epidemic of Loneliness’. Retrieved October 19, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday. com/ca/blog/stonewall-strong/202009/COVID-19-blew-epidemic-loneliness Billock, J. (2020, September 16). How Will COVID-19 Change the Way Museums Are Built? Smithsonian Magazine. Carlsson, R. (2020, October 08). Why we need museums now more than ever. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://www.museumnext. com/article/why-we-need-museums-now-more-than-ever/ Ducharme, J. (2020, May 08). COVID-19 Is Making America’s Loneliness Epidemic Even Worse. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from https:// Elsner, Ian. (Host). (2020). The Future of Hans-on Museum Exhibits with Paul Orselli [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from Green, J., Luke, J. J., Desjardins, A., & Betts, D. (2019). Cultivating Emotional Wellbeing: Museums & Art Therapy. https://digital.lib.washington. edu:443/researchworks/handle/1773/43840


Hall, E. T. (1969). The Hidden Dimension. New York: Doubleday.


Jacobs, J. (2020, May 29). No Touch, No Hands-On Learning, for Now, as Museums Try to Reopen. The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2020, from Kirchberg, V., & Tröndle, M. (2012). Experiencing Exhibitions: A Review of Studies on Visitor Experiences in Museums. Curator: The Museum Journal, 55(4), 435–452. Patmali, L., (2017). Art Therapy in Museums. Museeum. Retrieved from: Pheasant, S., & Haslegrave, C. M. (2005). Bodyspace : Anthropometry, ergonomics and the design of work, third edition. ProQuest Ebook Central Princeton University (Producer). (2020, June 26). Reinventing Museums: The Pandemic’s Challenges and Opportunities [Video]. Retrieved September 23, 2020, from Thorne-Christy, E. (2020, November 20). Rethinking Where We Exhibit in Light of COVID-19. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www. Wong, H. (2020, July 16). “It could kickstart a revolution”: Exhibition design post-COVID. Retrieved October 01, 2020, from https://www.designweek.

a project by Sofia Tapia