At the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre in Osoyoos, British Columbia, the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) wanted to create a space that would celebrate the Okanagan First Nations people’s rich history, their deep connections to the land, and their stewardship of endangered species. The organization hired AldrichPears Associates, which worked closely with community members and ensured that First Nations elders would guide all aspects of the centre’s interpretive design, and the result is a series of exhibits that are as responsibly conceived as they are informative. Such extensive collaboration isn’t something specific to this particular AldrichPears project, however; it’s just how the company operates in a field it basically pioneered.
When AldrichPears began more than 30 years ago, its mission, though simply stated, was a big one: to design educational exhibits that help people become inspired and more aware of the world around them, encouraging them to make a meaningful contribution to it. As cofounder Phil Aldrich explains it, the Vancouver-based company wants to impact local communities and make a difference.
By The Numbers
Total value of projects
Countries AldrichPears has worked in
Acreage of the biggest project, the Las Vegas Springs Preserve
Square footage of the smallest project, the Historic Jeff Smith Museum in Skagway, Alaska
AldrichPears works primarily in informal education, providing interpretive-planning and exhibit-design services to nonprofit organizations worldwide and masterminding such projects as Seattle’s Zoomazium at Woodland Park Zoo, which enables kids to connect to the natural world through a variety of imaginative, whole-bodied play opportunities.
“In North America, there are maybe a couple of dozen design firms specializing in interpretive design, but this wasn’t a field 30 years ago, and our company has really moved this field forward,” Aldrich says. “We use every trick in the book to make an experience as entertaining, educational, and interactive as possible. Our collaborative approach to community development is what sets us apart. The traditional approach is to meet with the client, develop the concept, present it to the client, reconfigure the concept, etc. We actively engage our clients, doing workshops and making them a part of the design process. It’s a very different approach but one that’s been quite successful.”
Before deciding to enter into a partnership with an organization, Aldrich and his team first evaluate the bigger story at play. “What’s the potential to impact people in unique ways?” Aldrich asks. “What is the impact on broader issues?” To him and his team, these questions are just as important as whether or not an organization has the money and resources in place to bring its vision to life. AldrichPears will work with any organization, no matter its size, and this commitment has taken the company to some pretty interesting places.
In 1991, AldrichPears worked on what would become the world’s largest travelling science exhibition, the Dinosaur World Tour, which showcased artifacts from three expeditions to search for dinosaur remnants in China, Alberta, and the Canadian High Arctic. The exhibit, spanning 27,000 square feet, also featured never-before-seen specimens and explored the missing link between dinosaurs and birds. Aldrich cites this particular project as one of his company’s proudest, largely because of the number of people it reached and the astonishing amount of educational information it presented to the public.
AldrichPears doesn’t shy away from taking on challenging projects, either. The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor, for instance, required the company to sensitively and honestly tell the story of the war, encouraging people from all countries affected to open themselves up to nuance and look at the conflict from all sides.
As AldrichPears continues expanding its reach, the challenges will continue. Currently, the company is working on a network of science centres in Saudi Arabia, where the sciences take low priority in school curriculums. “It’s important to us to continue challenging ourselves and to continue pushing into new areas,” Aldrich says. “None of this would be possible without the team we have in place. The level of talent and skill on our side is unbelievable, and it allows us to do the work we do across the globe.”