Consider it Ottawa’s most expensive fixer-upper: an $80- million renovation to the former bakery we call the Canada Science and Technology Museum, located just off St. Laurent Boulevard in a cheerless industrial area. The building is scheduled to reopen to the public on November 17 after being closed for three years because of mould, asbestos, a collapsing roof, and a general assessment by the museum’s own managers that the institution was “tired” and in need of a reboot.
And what a reboot!
Along with the renovations, the museum’s 10-acre front lawn will become a park. A path called Curiosity Way will take visitors to the museum’s front door, where the entranceway roof is being raised to a height of 40 feet to add some pizzazz to the country’s dowdiest (architecturally speaking) national museum. Just outside the entrance, there will be a 1,172-square-foot canopy, along with a 250-foot facade, for projections and high-tech programming.
Inside, expect to find several themed exhibitions, spread over 80,000 square feet, covering such topics as steam power, wearable technology, sound design, natural-resource development, and medicine. Look for a new virtual reality booth, as well as a 100-foot acrylic mural created by Ottawa artist Eric Chan (a.k.a. Eepmon), using hand carving and 3-D printing. The popular discombobulating Crazy Kitchen (with loads of fun and educational add-ons) and the steam locomotives known as 6400 and 3100 are among the few remaining tenants.
There will be a new climate-controlled 9,200-square-foot temporary exhibition space for travelling blockbusters the museum previously had to bypass. The first exhibition there, about video games, will be called Game Changer. Museum staff are also looking forward to hosting an exhibition on quantum computing, something best explained by the folks on The Big Bang Theory.
Corporate sponsors are also part of the new museum, and they bring their own set of challenges. Sponsors might have different agendas than museums, as museum staff discovered in 2012 when Imperial Oil exerted pressure to change the content of an energy exhibition. In the new museum, Michelin North America (Canada) Inc. is supporting ZOOOMobile, a car-building station for children to experiment with vehicle design. Time will tell if the venture is a success for all.
The museum will focus more on the present and the future than the past. Nevertheless, 12-to-14-foot-high artifact cases will be scattered around for fans of old-fashioned museology. Case themes include Canadiana, winter, travel, science fiction, tools, materials, printing, and the smartphone.
The reno and reboot were planned by the digitally preoccupied Alex Benay, the high-tech guru and former museum CEO determined to haul the crumbling museum into the 21st century. But Benay disappeared quietly last March to become the federal government’s chief information officer.
Museums normally announce departures of their CEOs. But not this time. Museum officials insist nothing odd was at play. “His departure wasn’t hidden, and I certainly don’t want to give that impression,” says Zoe Lomer, communications and marketing manager. Christina Tessier, the museum’s director general, says Benay drops by periodically to check on the progress of the renovations— his vision apparently chugging along. (An interview with Tessier, here.)