Museo del Acero

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Sanya Pleshakov

Published on October 18, 2007

  • Description and goals

    Some might have dismissed Blast Furnace No. 3 as an ageing, industrial relic. However Parque Fundidora envisioned a spectacular educational facility—part science center, part museum, part thrill ride—inside its crumbling walls. Today, that dream has finally become a reality. As Monterrey’s hottest new attraction, the Museo del Acero is one of the highlights of the Universal Forum of Cultures, which is being hosted by the park from September to December 2007.

    A hundred years ago, the park was the site of the country’s first integrated steel mill: Fundidora de Monterrey. After it closed in 1986, the land was reclaimed to provide green space for residents, and educational, recreational, and business facilities for over two million visitors a year. As a National Archeological Industrial Site, Parque Fundidora is already home to a number of beautifully restored heritage buildings.

    Dominating the Monterrey skyline, Blast Furnace No. 3 is one of the most recognizable icons of the city. As a symbol of the importance industry plays in Monterrey’s past and future, Blast Furnace No. 3 seemed like the perfect place to provide a fun and educational environment for families and kids to discover steelmaking history, science, and technology.

    To make this vision a reality, the Museo del Acero hired AldrichPears Associates, a Canadian interpretive planning and design firm, to develop the conceptual design and exhibits for the new museum. The result is a broad range of engaging experiences that introduce visitors to the importance of steelmaking in Mexico.

    What makes this museum unique is that it is housed inside the newly restored Horno No. 3. Grimshaw Architects worked with AldrichPears Associates to repurpose the building to meet the needs of a large museum while ensuring the preservation of its historical character. New additions were subtlety incorporated with the design. For example, the main gallery was carved out of the large slag pit found adjacent to the blast furnace.

    A number of partners rounded out this international team of designers and producers. One of the highlights of the museum is the multimedia show, El Gigante Dormido, for which Vista Collaborative Arts did the production and Performance Solutions did the special effects. The exhibits were fabricated and installed by The Taylor Group, Unified Field developed the computer interactives, Marjen Rojo produced the audiovisual materials, and Doug Welch was the lighting designer.

    Goals and Challenges

    The goal of the Museo del Acero is to use steelmaking as a vehicle to get younger visitors interested in science and scientific exploration. The main interpretive objectives are to tell the century-old story of steelmaking in Mexico, explain the process of making steel step by step, and provide visitors with a way of experiencing the excitement of standing next to a working blast furnace spewing molten iron and smoke. The challenge was to figure out how best to tell these complex stories—stories that had never been told before in a museum and science center—in a way that visitors would find fascinating and easy to understand.

  • Development process and challenges

    The design team used a number of strategies to meet this challenge:

    Provide visitors with choices

    The Museo del Acero offers a range of distinct experiences that cater to diverse audiences. Visitors can learn about the history of steelmaking in Mexico in the history gallery, México a Través del Acero; visit the playful, science-based steel gallery, La Acería; see the blast furnace come to life in the special effects show, El Gigante Dormido; or ride the ore lift to the top of the blast furnace to experience El Viaje a la Cima.

    Preserving an industrial relic

    After assessing the crumbling hulk of Blast Furnace No. 3, the design team made every effort to preserve the historical integrity of the building, and to use the historical space to their advantage. The project was a massive undertaking. The rusting, steel structure had to be stabilized. The cast hall floor—two meters of concrete and steel—was completely replaced. And a special protective coating was applied to all steel structures and machinery to prevent further decay.

    Historical spaces transport visitors back in time

    Today, the furnace itself remains intact. The seventy-meter tall steel structure is now the centerpiece of El Gigante Dormido, a sound and light show that uses music, video, and dramatic lighting to tell the story of Horno 3. Audience members can feel what it was like to be in the presence of an active blast furnace through sound effects, shooting sparks, bursts of flames, and a simulated river of molten iron. The history gallery is housed in what used to be the massive load floor. Beautiful brick columns still line the space and the torpedo car tracks remain visible in the floor. Visitors can ride inside what was once the ore lift to the top of the blast furnace where they can walk along the same catwalks that workers once did, high above the ground. From here, they can peer down the large throat of the furnace and take in the magnificent views of the site, the city, and beyond.

    Make the content engaging

    Opportunities for hands-on interaction abound in the history gallery. Visitors can listen to workers’ stories on telephones, watch images of steelworkers moving about in a model of Mexico’s first skyscraper, and delve deeper into the story of steelmaking through computer interactives. The steel gallery makes use of immersive environments and full body play to transport visitors to the mill or the mine to experience different processes. Kids can slide down a giant cutaway model of a blast furnace or ride an elevator deep into a coal mine. Visitors of all ages can operate a model electric arc furnace, blast for ore in a mine, or design a futuristic vehicle using steel.

    Use icons to anchor spaces

    Impressive icons, like a recreated torpedo car and a full-size delivery truck, help draw visitors through the different exhibit areas of the history gallery. A large-scale, three-dimensional diagram of ironmaking, steelmaking, and milling forms the backdrop of the steel gallery, and provides context for interactive exhibits.

    Provide a multilayered experience through multimedia

    Video and audio exhibits provide a multi-sensory experience to communicate moods as well as messages. Archival audiovisual programming on an old-fashioned radio and television hint at a bygone era in the history gallery. Visitors are introduced to the steel gallery through an engaging show in the immersive Rhythm of Steel Theater.

    Conclusion

    The Museo del Acero involves a lot of firsts. It’s the first time a blast furnace has been repurposed to function as a museum in Mexico, and it’s the first time Mexico’s story of steel has been told in an interpretive facility.

    The museum’s unique approach of combining history, science center exhibits, a special effects show, and a thrill ride will connect visitors to the steelmaking history of Mexico and inspire the country’s future steel scientists and engineers.

  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

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  • Exhibition Opened: August 2007

  • Exhibition Still Open!

  • Traveling Exhibition: No

  • Location: Monterrey, Mexico

  • Estimated Cost: Over $3,000,000 (US)

  • Size: Over 10,000

  • Other funding source(s): State of Nuevo León, industry

  • Website(s):  http://www.horno3.org/

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