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Museum finds a winning formula

  • Chicago Tribune
  • Published Sunday, April 14, 2013, at 12 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — A venerable San Francisco institution has packed up and moved to a lovely new waterfront home.

The Exploratorium, housed at the city’s Palace of Fine Arts since 1969, has relocated to a $300 million space on Pier 15. It is scheduled to open April 17. And though a science museum usually isn’t a must-see attraction for visitors to any city, this one is worth a look.

Sitting more or less halfway between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building — heck, you’re going to make both those stops anyway, so this is right on the way — the new Exploratorium (exploratorium.edu) is on a 9-acre campus that has indoor and outdoor attractions.

“Right now, although lots of people come to see the (Palace of Fine Arts) building, they don’t come to the Exploratorium,” said Tom Rockwell, director of exhibits. “At the new site, millions, literally, will be able to interact with exhibits without buying a ticket.”

The Exploratorium is not easily described. It’s not a children’s museum; it’s not somewhere to go to be “taught” things. Just imagine a really cool science museum where you, the visitor, are encouraged to let your curiosity run wild.

“One of the things that’s unique about the Exploratorium is our garage-tinkering aesthetic,” Rockwell said. “We want our visitors to feel like they’re walking into an experiment.”

The new building will open with 600 exhibits, a quarter of them new.

“My definition of a good exhibit is one you can’t walk by without wanting to try again,” Rockwell said. “But we’re most interested in sparking that natural curiosity that can’t be stopped.”

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