March 3, 2008

Reporters Meet the Men Behind the Museum

Ralph Appelbaum answers questions as reporters view the Berlin Wall gallery. (Sam Kittner)
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Ralph Appelbaum answers questions as reporters view the Berlin Wall gallery. (Sam Kittner)

Robert Young explains the unique architectural features of the Newseum. (Sam Kittner)
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Robert Young explains the unique architectural features of the Newseum. (Sam Kittner)

James Polshek demonstrates the Newseum's position on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Sam Kittner)
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James Polshek demonstrates the Newseum's position on Pennsylvania Avenue. (Sam Kittner)

Reporters examine artifacts in the News Corp. News History gallery. (Sam Kittner)
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Reporters examine artifacts in the News Corp. News History gallery. (Sam Kittner)

James Polshek and Ralph Appelbaum discuss their collaboration on the Newseum. (Sam Kittner)
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James Polshek and Ralph Appelbaum discuss their collaboration on the Newseum. (Sam Kittner)

More than a dozen architecture reporters got a rare chance Feb. 21 to get a personal tour from two of the Newseum's creators — architect James Polshek and exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum.

The Newseum, which opens to the public April 11, marks the third major collaboration for the two men, considered top in their respective fields. They also developed the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark.

"We like to tell other people's stories," Polshek said, as he described how the inspiration for the Newseum's architecture came from the sections of a newspaper. He and his colleagues wanted to pay homage to "the principles of this place — the ideas of transparency and democracy."

Appelbaum said he had a genuine passion for the project. "The Newseum is a history museum of the evolution of the American mind," he said. "It defines how we created our moral compass, how we think about our political history. And that's what makes it so unique and special."

Leading the reporters through the building, Appelbaum, Polshek and Polshek's partner Robert Young pointed out some of the Newseum's unique features. Several reporters showed interest in three large glass elevators at the east end of the 90-foot-tall atrium, which provide a birds-eye view of the entire museum for visitors as they rise seven floors.

"These elevators are the largest single-shaft hydraulics in the world," Young said. He pointed out the lack of a traditional shaft around the elevators, a specific design choice that adds transparency and visibility in the museum.

Appelbaum said that the original Newseum in Arlington, Va., which he also designed, proved to be a great connecting force for visitors, both within families and among strangers.

"This isn't the kind of museum where you go and expect to encounter information you've never heard before," Appelbaum said. "Oftentimes what you're really encountering are the building blocks of your own personal history."

The universality of the stories told in the Newseum encourages the sharing of personal experiences, Appelbaum said. So his team designed exhibit spaces where visitors can do just that. "The Newseum brings out an enthusiasm in people to engage with each other," he said. "People always end up talking to each other here."

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