Discovery Center

“To those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of Discovery”

Partition Topper


The Discovery Center | A Hub for Learning

This project was developed for the ‘Discovery Space,’ a children’s science museum in State College, PA. The organization wanted to see what the possibilities were for their expansion project, in the context of a community push to create a better ‘Allen Street Civic District.’ We immediately fell in love with this idea of using learning and education as the core of the new civic district.

The Science of Learning |

We studied education, science, math, biology, astronomy, phycology, and the sciences behind learning and looked at how these things were already present in the community.

After our exhaustive research we decided on focusing on the three main types of learning: Visual, Auditory, and Physical.

Visual learning is learning through things we see: the exhibits at a museum, the writing in books at the library, art we see in a gallery.

See it

Auditory learning is learning through things we hear: the words in a lecture, the music in a concert, the speech of a tour guide.

Hear it

Physical learning is learning through doing: trying it ourselves, performing an experiment, interacting with an exhibit.

Do it

See it, Hear it, Do it.


The Network|

Learning is all around us. The opportunities are everywhere and the organizations are spread all over the community. We identified a whole network of learning opportunities in State College including the Arboretum, the Sustainability Center, the Military Museum, Shaver’s Creek, as well as many places around campus. Our proposal was for the creation of a new Town Square with the Discovery Center placed in the center of our district.

Network of Learning
Network of Learning

However, they organizations are usually underutilized; either because no one knows they’re there or they don’t know how to get involved or simply because they don’t feel welcomed. For example, the post office. When we were little our school took us on a tour of the back of the post office. It had all these big machines and sorters and shredders and flashy lights and we learned about how the mail system works. We learned about the big machines and what each one did, how mail gets sorted, how it gets transported, we even learned how to write and address a letter. (we were little) Now, every community has a post office, or even a sorting facility, but if you were to go to the post office today and ask for a tour you probably wouldn’t get very far. This is where the new Discovery Center comes in.

The Center |

The Discovery Center is where we proposed people could come to learn about these opportunities and book a group tour of the post office, sign up for a trip to the Arboretum, or get more involved in the community. This helped to define both the round shape of the core space as well as the placement of the information desk. All centers in nature are round. From the nucleus of a cell to star of our solar system to core of our galaxy, the center is round.

The Center Desk


The Exhibit Space |

Around this center core we have our main exhibition space. There is no large exhibition space in State College. No place to put on a large public display, to house a science exhibit, to have an indoor gathering space.  We also wanted to create a more ‘adult’ space, a part of the museum that would interest not just small children but their older siblings, their parents, and other people in the community. This large circular room is almost thirty feet tall with a truss system above to help support the exhibitions. The large wood and slate walls with the vast concrete floor and columns create a more ‘grown up’ space with a larger scale and cavernous space will capture the imaginations of all ages. It can hold any number of exhibitions including our ‘Cave Wall.’ A section of slate wall on the back of our thermal mass used for writing and drawing and displaying. Above the ramp is a space for professional displays while under the ramp in the ‘Cave’ there were spaces for lessons, or a place where the public can write, the touch and interact with the wall, or just see what others have shared.

The Cave Wall
The Cave Wall

The Mezzanine |

Being a children’s museum we also needed to consider the scale of the exhibits. If, for example the Discovery Center was to bring in dinosaur a four or five year old would lose their mind. However, being only four or five they would only come up to its ankle. Where they want to be is up by its head, right up in the teeth of the monster. To allow for a more dynamic visual interaction we placed a full twelve foot high ramp that wraps the perimeter of the space. This allows anyone of any height to walk up along the length of the dinosaur from its ankles to its ribs all the way up to look it in the eyes. The mezzanine is ADA accessible and allows visitors a unique way to experience the various exhibits in the space.

The Mezzanine
The Mezzanine


The Discovery Laboratory |

The third floor is dedicated to the Discovery Space. The original organization that initiated this project is a children’s science museum. They focus on children ages 2 and up. Children this young need special attention, more hands-on learning. To accommodate this vital function of the new Discovery Center we set aside this third floor. This space has controlled access into the full floor of the circle. We called this area the laboratory both as a tribute to Bill Nye and because of the more experimental nature of the Discovery Space’s exhibits. Each exhibit doesn’t just give information, it provides some context and the means by which children can experiment and find the information for themselves. The space is populated with three foot wide partition frames which ratchet tighten into the ceiling allowing for the space to be rearranged to adapt to the changing experiment stations. The floor also contains a parent’s lounge by the north facing windows. The open partitions allow parents to be in the quieter lounge area while still being able to keep an eye on their kids almost anywhere in the space.

The Laboratory

The Greenhouse Wall |

The Discovery Laboratory has a deck in the Greenhouse Wall. It serves as an area where the children can do plant and sunlight based experiments. However, this was not its original purpose. This Greenhouse Wall was part of our effort to create a more sustainable building. Using a series of ‘earth tubes,’ a large thermal mass wall, some green house glass and a few mechanical vents and fans we created an HVAC system that does not require the use of traditional heat pumps or a furnace. This system allows us to not only cut down on the energy use in the building or create a more comfortable and natural feeling air quality, but it allows us to display the system to the public. The Greenhouse Wall faces directly onto the Town Square allowing community members and visitors to see that green technology can be used and can be used at any scale.

Greenhouse Wall
Greenhouse Wall


Water Treatment |

Water is a precious resource. Even in one of the rainiest places in the United States, State College mostly relies on ground water. In our building we decided to collect every drop of rain water to reduce run off, and to reclaim all of the grey water to reduce the unneeded load on the sewage system. Using a few simple process used by campers, classrooms in water experiments, and by small villages all over the world we are able to purify almost 920,000 gallons of water from our site annually. For reference, our water needs in this design are only 120,000 annually. By purify we don’t mean that we create grey water that can be only be used on none edible plantings, we mean clean water, to be used in the sinks, the showers, the garden hose, and for everything on our site expect for the fire sprinklers. But more importantly we can show this technique. We designed a large display wall that shows our filter systems in tanks lining the hall way to the bathroom core. That way visitors can see and read about our water treatment system as they go to use the water.

Water Filter Wall
Water Filter Wall


The Class Room Rings |

This area of the building was design to be an open area class space for the Center’s summer activities. The shape is based on the physical forms of light and sound waves. This part of the project originally bridged across the Town Square to connect the Discovery Center to the Garden Roof on top of the Verizon building. However we felt it fit better closer to the core of the project overlooking the Courtyard Space.

The Courtyard |

This courtyard was design to create an all season gathering space around our building. Designed after the courtyard in the D.C National Portrait Gallery and styled after the Nasir ol Molk Mosque. This space created a dynamic space the connected our building to the rest of the buildings on the block as well as sprawling out to connected as far up as Beaver Ave. and from the Post Office to Allen Street. This was necessary to create a more pedestrian friendly area as opposed to an area of parking lots, back alleys, and unused drive throughs. This is because pedestrians are far more likely to stop and become engaged in their community.


The Town Square |

The Town Square had been one of the most ubiquitous spaces in any developing town since the Roman Empire. A space where the town could come together and interact, hold fairs, celebrations, protests, display art or just come together as a community. We decided to redevelop an existing surface lot into a large town square to host local events like ‘Art’s Fest’, the farmers market, the winter ice sculpting, as well as provide the first open level space for the community to use. This Square was also ideally situated between the municipal building, Friedman Park, and the location for our Discovery Center.

The new Town Square


The Story Boards |

In the initial stages of the project we had difficulty organizing all of the small parts and important concepts that make up our story. Se we developed these story board cards. Each idea or design element was given a card and was worked out by hand, showing our idea and some of the inspiration that went into the idea. This helped us to explain the complexities of the project very quickly and helped us to organize all of the thought that went into this project. The cards also allow people to feel each part in their hands to sort through the ideas the rearrange them and tell their own story in our context and become more engaged in the project than if they had just been pinned up on a wall.

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The Presentation |

We wanted our viewers to experience our project not just a standard architecture studio pin-up, but as an exhibit that they could become engaged in. To that end we created a pair of tables that our audience could sit at. One table was for the Story Boards and the Google Cardboard Viewers, the other was CNC milled into topography for the large model. Inside the exhibit behind the table were some of our development models, the drawings seen below with some explanatory text, and a projector showing the development of the project and the Story Boards.

The Model |

Architectural Drawings |

Google Cardboard Views |

You can scan the code or click on the link to open the viewer. Each station point is viewed from the red dot on the plans.

The Exhibit |

A Complex Project |

This is culmination of hundreds of hours of work by both Alison Robinson and myself.  This project was one of the most complex yet most complete projects I have worked on. We were able to conceive a project on several scales ranging from small displays to an urban design to a community engagement while still holding on to our core idea of promoting learning not just in a learning setting but everywhere in community and in life. There is only so much space to express this project, only 1/3 of the design ideas and details are represented in this post. There were community amphitheaters, a system of public and private development in the district, commercial development on both the Allen St. ground level and in the courtyard. What you see here are some of our personal favorite ideas and details that we felt embodied the larger goals of our project.