The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning
Dark Sky Exhibit opens at NHMU

Design for the Disappearing Dark Sky

U design students create exhibit for Natural History Museum of Utah to protect our dark skies


University of Utah multi-disciplinary design students teamed up with the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies to create an exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah that showcases Utah’s unique exposure to the night sky. The exhibit illustrates issues such as light pollution and how artificial light has impacted the natural beauty and habitats of Utah. The exhibit opens on Thursday, April 19 in the Sky Gallery of the Natural History Museum, 5th floor.


“This project was such a rewarding experience to not only learn more about the exhibit design process, but to have the opportunity to develop something that will impact perspectives and promote change in our community.” said Erica Fasoli, U design student. The design students began the experience with their annual camping trip to Escalante, Utah. Escalante provides one of the closest and most vibrant experiences with a natural, dark sky. This observation was many of the students’ first understanding and experience of a dark sky.


Through visiting the Natural History Museum, students worked directly with Tim Lee, senior exhibit designer, to learn about exhibit design and the intensive process that their designers go through to create a unique and educational exhibit. “Our cohort split into teams based on our individual interests like design research, experience design, and fabrication. Focusing on what we wanted to get out of the project, allowed us to stay motivated in the exhibit development,” said Andrew Morgan, U design student.


Through a collaborative effort, the entire junior design studio prototyped various design solutions to highlight the impact of artificial light. The student team worked directly with the museum staff to refine and solidify practical implementations for the installation space.


University Design faculty, Elpitha Tsoutsounakis and Bogart McAvoy, guided the fabrication and implementation stages of the process. After finalizing the design, students worked to create an experience that was cohesive with the layout and style of the rest of the exhibits in the museum.


“We are very fortunate to have an ongoing collaboration with an institution like the Natural History Museum of Utah,” says design professor Elpitha Tsoutsounakis. “The students are able to learn from an amazing team of talented professionals outside of the classroom and well before graduation. It also gives our students the opportunity to engage exciting community partners like the Consortium for Dark Sky Studies.”


Kirtly Maxfield, U design student, said “Visitors will leave the exhibit feeling inspired by the beauty of the night sky, and they will feel prompted to make real life changes to help protect it.” The exhibit highlights artificial light pollution and the impact that it has on the human connection with the night sky.


Visitors will have the opportunity to interact with the exhibit and learn more about the way artificial light drowns out natural light from the stars.


The exhibit officially opens on April 19th, 2018 on the 5th floor in the Sky Gallery of the Natural History Museum.