Art in engineering: museum exhibitions we care about

Few people appreciate engineering like artists. Hence, all of the engineering and design museums and artwork you see popping up in museums around the world. And while the beauty and grace many of these works come as no surprise to people who work in fields like engineering and architecture, it’s not the kind of thing the layperson might be anticipating in their museum experience. So it’s on a global scale that the tenets of engineering continue to evolve, with new technologies and ideas like 3D printing, seeping into the public consciousness. Here are a few of the more colorful (if you’ll pardon the pun) examples of engineering work being displayed in museums across the globe.

Image via The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Ill., “Brick by Brick”

In a museum where the inspirational power of engineering is on full display, perhaps the most powerful tool in shaping the minds of young and aspiring engineers are LEGOs. The MSI, Chicago uses these little blocks to create and recreate some of the world’s biggest and best feats of engineering, not just turning theory into practical application, but making it fun. Seeing miniature versions of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Roman Colosseum, and the International Space Station is a stark reminder of the power of creation, and in the possibilities that lie ahead. And not only that, but the open build area lets you create your own little marvels.

Image via MIT Museum

MIT Museum, Cambridge, Mass., “Gestural Engineering: The Sculpture of Arthur Ganson”

Arthur Ganson’s sculptures aren’t just for looking: they’re machines that give a more literal definition to the term “kinetic art.” With the press of a pedal or the turn of a crank you make Ganson’s art come to life. Created from items he himself fabricates or finds, his work explores the nature of object manipulation, whether moving simple gears or creating a work of art with a machine. Think about that for a second. A piece of machine art making art. How meta is that?

Image via SHoP Architects PC

National Building Museum, Washington, D.C., “Timber City”

Because we know engineering is more than gearboxes and metal pieces, The National Building Museum in Washington D.C. brings you a look at the majesty of timber construction and design. Featuring samples of engineered wood through architectural models, “Timber City” puts on display the sustainability, strength, and beauty of wood as it revitalizes manufacturing in both rural and urban environments.

Victoria and Albert Museum

V&A, London, “Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design”

One of London’s premier art and design museums fetes one of the premier engineers of the century in this collection. Considered to be one of the top structural engineers of his time, Ove Arup’s work has defined the modern approach to design and engineering, and this exhibit explores the work and ideas that made him a 20th-century renaissance man. Look at his high-profile triumphs, like the project that made his reputation, the Sydney Opera House, and explore archival materials never released and newer projects that shed even more light on his legacy and mastery of the craft. This exhibit, made with Arup’s cooperation, is part of the V&A Engineering Season.

Image via BKM Tech/Brooklyn Museum

Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York

A couple of years ago, the Brooklyn Museum tackled the role of 3D printing in museums through a series of hands-on initiatives. Working with artist David Huerta, they moved forward with a series of 3D printed objects to use in a variety of areas around the museum. Not the least of which is for the museum’s Sensory Tours, allowing the blind and partially sighted to experience art in ways they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. In addition, the museum’s Forward Thinking: 3D Printing class introduced 3D printing and scanning to pre-teens and teens. Of course, all of this is in addition to the variety of other ways the museum is employing 3D printing and scanning to enhance and recreate their existing pieces of art, creating a whole new way in which to enjoy art.


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