Philadelphia University was organizing an exhibit, Single Bullet, to take place at its Paul J. Gutman Library, honoring Arlen Specter and the Warren Commission’s investigation of the John F. Kennedy assassination, and would welcome guests ranging from secondary school students to federal legislators. Our design class was brought into the project by the exhibit committee, which included architecture school faculty, law school faculty, library administrators, and an exhibit designer, to design and fabricate a variety of exhibits that were still needed for the upcoming event, such as signage, Dealey Plaza context, models of JFK and Governor Connally, vitrine exhibits, and digital models.
I was partnered with a classmate to think about how we could show visitors the context of Dealey Plaza and help give them a sense of scale and direction. Essentially, although the exhibit is at the Philadelphia University library, we wanted visitors to get a sense of being at Dealey Plaza.
Since the design and fabrication of the exhibit had already been months underway, the exhibit already boasted a full scale piece of context: a model of the limousine that JFK was shot in. Furthermore, the car used monitors to show visitors what various speculated snipers would have seen from their positions around Dealey Plaza. Thus, if the full scale model of the car was in the library as indicated below, the location of the speculated snipers and the full scale context of Dealey Plaza would also be located as shown.
So, we developed what we called the panorama exhibit, which would be placed in front of the library entrance and would allow visitors to see what it would look like if Dealey Plaza was also around them at full scale.
The Mapping Device
The committee also wanted a mapping device that would allow visitors to compare various conspiracy theories associated with the JFK assassination. So, the design would be a device with translucent, acrylic layers showing how the details of various sniper theories and PhilaU’s campus are overlaid on top of Dealey Plaza. This gives visitors a way to examine the different sniper theories and experience in 2D how the scale of Dealey Plaza compares to the PhilaU campus. Furthermore, it will help visitors better understand what they are looking at through the panorama exhibit and how the car exhibit sits in relation to its context.
A Contextual System and Formal Goals
Since the map, the panorama, and the car exhibit all make up a system of establishing context for the visitor of the JFK exhibit, it would make sense for them to read similarly in form. Since the existing limousine model uses a language of steel rods and plywood, my partner and I strove to continue that language into the panorama and the map.
The Project Changes
However, our approach to the design changed because, although the exhibit committee liked our proposal for the panorama piece, they declined it from the upcoming exhibit. This weakened the three-part contextual system we had been working with by getting rid of the device that allowed visitors to “see” Dealey Plaza around them, and the car exhibit and the mapping mechanism on their own were not as interesting. Furthermore, we were having technical difficulties in making a mapping device from steel and plywood that was functioning, in terms of smooth, frictionless sliding for the acrylic layers. With the contextual system we had developed being weakened, the reasoning for using materials that linked the car exhibit and the map exhibit together lost leverage after facing these technical difficulties. So, my partner and I made the decision to switch to a material that would be conducive to our technical goals for the map and abandoned the contextual goals of the mapping device, eliminating the Philadelphia University campus layer from its components. It was disappointing to see the contextual system we had developed go away. But now, using acrylic for the map device, we were able to make a beautiful installation for the exhibit that allows visitors to slide translucent layers showing the different sniper theories on and off of a base plan of Dealey Plaza. The device no longer stands in connection to the car, but it developed an appealing aesthetic of its own.