Edward M. Kennedy
Institute for the U.S. Senate

Within the new Rafael Viñoly designed Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate building Biber Architects, with Information Art and Pentagram, created a foundation for design where visitors would be able to engage in a range of experiences unlike any museum or exhibition they may have visited in the past. Reflecting Senator Kennedy’s love for, and intimate knowledge of, the US Senate and the iconic central space, visitors could explore deep within a growing archive of Senate lore, activity, personalities and historical perspectives. The modes of engagement are varied, but all were designed to activate interest in both the Senate and, in a larger sense, government and political activity.

The Institute is designed to accommodate and captivate visitors with a variety of interests, levels of expertise, age, group size and knowledge of American legislative history and process. Whether primarily interested in Senator Kennedy’s life and Senate record, or an issue (such as Civil Rights, or State’s Rights) or a period of our nation’s history (such as the post Civil War Reconstruction or the first few Congresses in the late 18th century), the Institute is structured to provide a meaningful exploration of history and the present.

Just as the Senate Chamber occupies the center of the Institute, the Senate Immersion Modules, or SIMs, are the central, and most immersive, experiences within the range of Institute activities. The SIM is a role-playing experience for between 26 and 100 visitors that takes the group though a series of real issues with real votes and real personalities. The two hour sessions explore historically accurate events, but with the visitors determining the outcome. Highly social by design, the SIM allows participants to engage in negotiation, debate, caucuses and votes on 5 separate but related issues. The SIM exposes the Senate process as no textbook or exhibit can, with real personal interaction and the excitement of votes, winning and losing. Comparisons to the accurate historical record provide a window to the past through the activities in the present.

This methodology, using the present as a window to the past, is a recurring theme in the Institute’s didactic mission.

In concert with, or as an alternative to, the SIM visitors can vote on a series of issues throughout their visit. Each vote can be researched by visitors to gain expertise, while only the votes than interest them need be addressed. The knowledge they accumulate is yet another window into the issues before the Senate, and the nation, and a path to higher levels of political and governmental engagement.

While the Institute experience is driven by a vast embedded set of technologies, the visitors’ experience is driven by the social, collaborative and information visualizations that transcend the digital to create an almost tactile engagement with the content.

The result is a set of varied experiences each designed to create a higher level of interest and understanding of the nation’s upper legislative chamber, the national issues of the day and the past, and motivation to be a more active participant in it all.

The project is being carried out by ESI Design, based on designs created by our team. It is destined to be a place like no other.