Designing the Planetarium of the Future

by Christina Ciardullo with Eleven Magazine
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We are launching an architectural ideas competition to re-imagine and re-invent how we learn about space and the world around us.

  Outreach, Astronomy

Planetarium: The Experience of Space

"When I was 5 years old, my father took me to the American Museum of Natural History/Hayden Planetarium for the first time....I remember...sitting in the darkened planetarium, right next to the control console for the projector, on the left hand side, second row from the wall, which I considered the best seat in the house...I would say, under my breath, the name of every object about to be identified before the presenter would. It was a time of great happiness and learning for me. My parents wondered for a time whether I would try to become a paleontologist, or an archeologist or a geologist; I'm afraid I disappointed them; I became a [nuclear] physicist...with some electrical engineering on the side. May the Museum and planetarium delight and bring wonder to many more generations...The children are always the future; keep educating and enthralling them. Thank you for a lifetime of wonder." - member of the Museum of Natural History in New York City

Many emerging scientists have had this experience of wonder. This physcial space, the experience of sitting beneath the replicated dome of the sky, has been inspiring the public to study science and astronomy for over a century.  It is an iconic architectural experience, an invention, a tool, a classroom, and the most significant place of informal education today. There can be no doubt the millions of scientists this experience has created.

But with new science, and new methods of communication, we asked ourselves - what is it we are trying to communicate in astronomy today, and how might we re-imagine this incredibly powerful experience? The Planetarium dome has become the standard vessel for communicating astronomy and astrophysics. However, it was born of a singular function, to descibe the sky as seen from the surface of earth. Now we fly over planets and through the universe, and lessons are projections, films or virtual reality, making the planetarium an alternative movie theather. If once the physical experiecne of being under the dome meant so much to inspiring our youth, what kind of experience does new science guide us towards to inspire the next generation to learn about our universe in a new way? In this competition, we ask if architecture itself could become – once again – the tool for experiencing and understanding space. How can architecture engage with and enhance today’s renewed age of space exploration and discovery? What does the next generation of Planetariums look like?

With a 2015 Grant from the Middle Atlantic Planetarium Society, in collaboration with Eleven Magazine, we created an international architectural ideas competition on the Planetarium. The competition invites designers from around the world to submit ideas on the future of this architectural icon. We’ve assembled a leading interdisciplinary jury, influential to planetarium design in industry today, with astrophysicists, science educators, exhibition designers, visual artists, and architects from NASA, Caltech, ESO, SETI, Ralph Applbaum Associates, and Ennead Architects to help us evaluate the entries and the winner is to be chosen in October 2017. This project is a unique opportunity to take a moment to step back and think a bit out of the box on the role of architecture, digital media in communicating science. It gives designers, as well as scientists and educators, a chance to think collaboratively about the experience and inspire a world where design and science are more integrated and to engage critical questions such as the role between immersive media and physical architecture.

  Budget Breakdown

Sponsorship for this competition goes directly to prizes awarded to the winning designs. Incentives are needed to elicit the best creative capital from entrants. Additional funding would go towards the promotion of winning designs among architects, designers, scientists, and educators at conferences and events, and through publication, to continue the dialogue, bringing ideas from the world at large to those who activley shape the industry.

  Risks and Challenges

The competition is in full swing, with already 80 entries and growing. While we will award the winners, the risks to not meeting our goals mean that the creative visions developed for this competition might not be able to be shared as widley with the international community, and might not have the impact they could.


  • Project Leader: Christina Ciardullo with Eleven Magazine (Individual)
  • Location: International
  • Organizer:

    Christina Ciardullo

    Contact the organizer

Designing the Planetarium of the Future

We are launching an architectural ideas competition to re-imagine and re-invent how we learn about space and the world around us.