Science centres
Axel Hüttinger

As Luanda’s first science centre gets ready to open in Angola’s capital, the MD of Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions tells Magali Robathan why he’s on a mission to make science more accessible


In 1921, Emanuel Hüttinger founded engineering consultancy firm Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions in Furth, near Nuremberg, Germany. The firm evolved over the coming decades from a focus on the design and fabrication of technical models to the design and fit out of exhibitions and information centres. Today it is a ‘one-stop shop for exhibition planning, design and fabrication,’ working across museums, science centres, themed attractions, visitor centres, product presentations and art projects.

Clients include the Aberdeen Science Center, UK; the National Museum of Qatar; the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Washington, US; and CosmoCaixa, Barcelona, Spain.

Here Axel Hüttinger shares details of some unique projects due for completion and tells us why he’s not interested in presenting science topics as a ‘finished project’.

You’re working on the creation of a new national science centre in Angola. What can you tell us about the project?
The Luanda Science Center in Luanda, Angola is one of the biggest projects we’re working on right now. Our client is Mitrelli/Athena Swiss AG and it is due to open next year.

We’re the general contractor to design and build the exhibition for the new centre. We started fabricating a year ago, and installation started this spring.

The idea of the museum is to stimulate interest in science and technology, particularly among young people. It will include exhibitions on maths, computer science, natural science and technology, the human body and Angola. It will also feature a children’s playground, a cinema, planetarium, laboratories and temporary exhibitions.

We’re trying to tailor the content to the region as much as possible – the building housing the museum itself used to be a soap factory, so one of the installations allows visitors to make their own soap, and that installation will be connected to a maker space open fabrication lab.

One of the really interesting things about this project, is that the operator has put an outreach programme in right from the very beginning. In Angola, everything is concentrated in the capital – in rural areas, there’s very little in terms of infrastructure and education. The Luanda Science Center will act as a hub of science communication, using interactive science kits to run science programmes in rural communities across Angola. It’s going to be brilliant – you’ll load these kits onto trucks and lorries and go out into the communities.

You’re helping the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, US, transform its East Wing. What is happening there?
The National Air and Space Museum reopened its West Wing in October 2022 following a redesign, and we worked with them on the exhibits. We’re over the moon to be working with them again; this time, on another project to design and build interactive exhibits for the East Wing of the museum together with US fabrication firm Design and Production Incorporated and Toronto based design firm Reich + Petch.

The East Wing includes a huge gallery called How Things Fly, which we’re designing exhibits for. One of the exhibits will see visitors put on airfoils – like wings – and play about in a walk-in wind tunnel, to allow them to experience the forces of flight with their own bodies.

This illustrates our whole approach to learning – it’s not about just pushing a button, or looking at a little model of an aeroplane in a wind tunnel, it’s being in that wind tunnel yourself and feeling the forces with your own body. It’s the opposite of reading about a process, or watching it – it’s actually being part of that process. It’s a far more powerful way of connecting to visitors and helping them to understand a subject.

What else are you working on?
We won the design and build contract for a new children’s gallery for CosmoCaixa science museum in Barcelona, which I’m very excited about. We’re helping to create a new indoor/outdoor gallery, which should open by the beginning of next year. It will be an interactive science exhibition for children, featuring a wide range of exhibits, including ones exploring fluid mechanics and physics.

The beauty of the space is that it will be half indoors and half outdoors, which is a great idea – many parents don’t want to go into museums in the summer with their children, because who wants to be inside when you could be outside?

It will feature an outdoor play area and a range of exhibits.

You designed the recently opened Climate Change and Us gallery and exhibition for the Goulandris Natural History Museum in Athens. What’s the aim of this exhibition?
The aim was to present climate change not as an inevitable disaster, but as a feasible human challenge.

The great strength of Climate Change and Us is its regional focus – local expertise was used to create an exhibition tailored to the target group – schoolchildren from across the region. All exhibits are linked to the curriculum.

Greece is one of the few countries in Europe that’s managed to cover its electrical energy consumption almost entirely with renewable energy sources. We worked to make this clear via the central exhibit, Renewable Energy City, where visitors can interactively generate electrical energy at individual ‘power stations’ to keep the power grid stable.

The treatment of waste is another topic explored in the exhibition. The idea of a circular economy is communicated in a playful way with the Sort It! exhibit. The aim is to raise awareness that waste is made up of valuable raw materials.

You also recently completed the Electricity and Magnetism Gallery at the Hong Kong Science Museum. What makes this gallery exciting?
The beauty of the topic of energy is that it’s relevant to everyone. With this in mind, the Electricity and Magnetism gallery shows what’s behind the power socket, the principles of electric circuits and the effect of magnetism in a simple and vivid way. We designed and manufactured a ferro-fluid magnetoscope, a diamagnetic levitation exhibit and a 10m magnetic levitation train for this new gallery.

How would you sum up the philosophy of your company? What unites all of your work?
There are two types of science exhibition, which I describe as ‘about science’ and ‘of science’. ‘About science’ exhibitions present a scientific topic as a finished product – visitors can learn about the topic, press buttons and read panels. In this type of exhibition, visitors tend to be faced with simulations or diagrams with large amounts of explanatory text.

‘Of science’ exhibits encourage visitors to explore topics and create their own experiences and ideas. At Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions, we try to focus on the exhibitions we create as providers of experience, and we direct our efforts toward making those experiences as rich, meaningful, and memorable as possible. These types of exhibits are designed to act as the start of inquiry and exploration – to pique visitors’ curiosity and lead to further questions.

Swinging pendulums, for example, develop knowledge of simple harmonic motion. Using tools develops knowledge of simple machines. Playing with solar powered model cars develops knowledge of electrical circuits.

You also work with artists to realise their visions. What are you working on in this part of the business right now?
We have just been awarded a new contract to create a huge sculpture with the Austrian artist André Heller in Prague in the Czech Republic. We’re at the very beginning of the process, so I can’t say too much, but it will be an interactive piece exploring emotions.

We have worked with Heller before, when we helped to create the world’s largest walk-in kaleidoscope as part of the multimedia show Zeiträume that Heller curated in Taggenbrun Castle in Carinthia, Austria.

We have also worked with US artist Anthony Howe on the creation of Azlon II, a large stainless steel sculpture that displays a unique spectacle of reflections and floating patterns as it moves in the wind.

Kits are being developed to run science programmes across Angola Credit: Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
The Luanda Science Center will act as a hub for science communication in Angola Credit: Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
Visitors learn best when they can experiment and create their own experiences Credit: Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
Luanda Science Center will explore scientific phenomena via a range of exhibits Credit: Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
Luanda Science Center will explore scientific phenomena via a range of exhibits Credit: Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
Visitors are invited to make their own soap Credit: Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
2023 issue 3

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Leisure Management - Axel Hüttinger

Science centres

Axel Hüttinger


As Luanda’s first science centre gets ready to open in Angola’s capital, the MD of Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions tells Magali Robathan why he’s on a mission to make science more accessible

Axel Hüttinger became MD of Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions in 2002 Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
Kits are being developed to run science programmes across Angola Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
The Luanda Science Center will act as a hub for science communication in Angola Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
Visitors learn best when they can experiment and create their own experiences Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
Luanda Science Center will explore scientific phenomena via a range of exhibits Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
Luanda Science Center will explore scientific phenomena via a range of exhibits Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions
Visitors are invited to make their own soap Photo: Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions

In 1921, Emanuel Hüttinger founded engineering consultancy firm Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions in Furth, near Nuremberg, Germany. The firm evolved over the coming decades from a focus on the design and fabrication of technical models to the design and fit out of exhibitions and information centres. Today it is a ‘one-stop shop for exhibition planning, design and fabrication,’ working across museums, science centres, themed attractions, visitor centres, product presentations and art projects.

Clients include the Aberdeen Science Center, UK; the National Museum of Qatar; the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Washington, US; and CosmoCaixa, Barcelona, Spain.

Here Axel Hüttinger shares details of some unique projects due for completion and tells us why he’s not interested in presenting science topics as a ‘finished project’.

You’re working on the creation of a new national science centre in Angola. What can you tell us about the project?
The Luanda Science Center in Luanda, Angola is one of the biggest projects we’re working on right now. Our client is Mitrelli/Athena Swiss AG and it is due to open next year.

We’re the general contractor to design and build the exhibition for the new centre. We started fabricating a year ago, and installation started this spring.

The idea of the museum is to stimulate interest in science and technology, particularly among young people. It will include exhibitions on maths, computer science, natural science and technology, the human body and Angola. It will also feature a children’s playground, a cinema, planetarium, laboratories and temporary exhibitions.

We’re trying to tailor the content to the region as much as possible – the building housing the museum itself used to be a soap factory, so one of the installations allows visitors to make their own soap, and that installation will be connected to a maker space open fabrication lab.

One of the really interesting things about this project, is that the operator has put an outreach programme in right from the very beginning. In Angola, everything is concentrated in the capital – in rural areas, there’s very little in terms of infrastructure and education. The Luanda Science Center will act as a hub of science communication, using interactive science kits to run science programmes in rural communities across Angola. It’s going to be brilliant – you’ll load these kits onto trucks and lorries and go out into the communities.

You’re helping the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, US, transform its East Wing. What is happening there?
The National Air and Space Museum reopened its West Wing in October 2022 following a redesign, and we worked with them on the exhibits. We’re over the moon to be working with them again; this time, on another project to design and build interactive exhibits for the East Wing of the museum together with US fabrication firm Design and Production Incorporated and Toronto based design firm Reich + Petch.

The East Wing includes a huge gallery called How Things Fly, which we’re designing exhibits for. One of the exhibits will see visitors put on airfoils – like wings – and play about in a walk-in wind tunnel, to allow them to experience the forces of flight with their own bodies.

This illustrates our whole approach to learning – it’s not about just pushing a button, or looking at a little model of an aeroplane in a wind tunnel, it’s being in that wind tunnel yourself and feeling the forces with your own body. It’s the opposite of reading about a process, or watching it – it’s actually being part of that process. It’s a far more powerful way of connecting to visitors and helping them to understand a subject.

What else are you working on?
We won the design and build contract for a new children’s gallery for CosmoCaixa science museum in Barcelona, which I’m very excited about. We’re helping to create a new indoor/outdoor gallery, which should open by the beginning of next year. It will be an interactive science exhibition for children, featuring a wide range of exhibits, including ones exploring fluid mechanics and physics.

The beauty of the space is that it will be half indoors and half outdoors, which is a great idea – many parents don’t want to go into museums in the summer with their children, because who wants to be inside when you could be outside?

It will feature an outdoor play area and a range of exhibits.

You designed the recently opened Climate Change and Us gallery and exhibition for the Goulandris Natural History Museum in Athens. What’s the aim of this exhibition?
The aim was to present climate change not as an inevitable disaster, but as a feasible human challenge.

The great strength of Climate Change and Us is its regional focus – local expertise was used to create an exhibition tailored to the target group – schoolchildren from across the region. All exhibits are linked to the curriculum.

Greece is one of the few countries in Europe that’s managed to cover its electrical energy consumption almost entirely with renewable energy sources. We worked to make this clear via the central exhibit, Renewable Energy City, where visitors can interactively generate electrical energy at individual ‘power stations’ to keep the power grid stable.

The treatment of waste is another topic explored in the exhibition. The idea of a circular economy is communicated in a playful way with the Sort It! exhibit. The aim is to raise awareness that waste is made up of valuable raw materials.

You also recently completed the Electricity and Magnetism Gallery at the Hong Kong Science Museum. What makes this gallery exciting?
The beauty of the topic of energy is that it’s relevant to everyone. With this in mind, the Electricity and Magnetism gallery shows what’s behind the power socket, the principles of electric circuits and the effect of magnetism in a simple and vivid way. We designed and manufactured a ferro-fluid magnetoscope, a diamagnetic levitation exhibit and a 10m magnetic levitation train for this new gallery.

How would you sum up the philosophy of your company? What unites all of your work?
There are two types of science exhibition, which I describe as ‘about science’ and ‘of science’. ‘About science’ exhibitions present a scientific topic as a finished product – visitors can learn about the topic, press buttons and read panels. In this type of exhibition, visitors tend to be faced with simulations or diagrams with large amounts of explanatory text.

‘Of science’ exhibits encourage visitors to explore topics and create their own experiences and ideas. At Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions, we try to focus on the exhibitions we create as providers of experience, and we direct our efforts toward making those experiences as rich, meaningful, and memorable as possible. These types of exhibits are designed to act as the start of inquiry and exploration – to pique visitors’ curiosity and lead to further questions.

Swinging pendulums, for example, develop knowledge of simple harmonic motion. Using tools develops knowledge of simple machines. Playing with solar powered model cars develops knowledge of electrical circuits.

You also work with artists to realise their visions. What are you working on in this part of the business right now?
We have just been awarded a new contract to create a huge sculpture with the Austrian artist André Heller in Prague in the Czech Republic. We’re at the very beginning of the process, so I can’t say too much, but it will be an interactive piece exploring emotions.

We have worked with Heller before, when we helped to create the world’s largest walk-in kaleidoscope as part of the multimedia show Zeiträume that Heller curated in Taggenbrun Castle in Carinthia, Austria.

We have also worked with US artist Anthony Howe on the creation of Azlon II, a large stainless steel sculpture that displays a unique spectacle of reflections and floating patterns as it moves in the wind.


Originally published in Attractions Management 2023 issue 3

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