Anchorage Museum
of History and Art,
Arctic Studies Center

Anchorage, Alaska

Size: 12,300 square feet
Designers: Ralph Applebaum Associates

Preserving a First Peoples History

The Arctic Studies Center, an integral part of the expanding Anchorage Museum, is comprised of over six hundred rare Native Alaskan objects displayed for the first time in over 150 years, marking the return of these artifacts to Alaska. The main exhibition, Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska, features over 600 Native Alaskan cultural and historical artifacts on long-term loan from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of Natural History. The Institution mandated strict display conditions that included seismic, air quality, and vibration considerations to protect over a thousand years of Alaskan Native History.

The core element of the exhibition is ten massive showcases that provide access to the artifacts for scholarly review and hands-on study in their place of origin. In addition to the artifact collections, the museum includes a cultural resource center, a study center, an archeology lab, a soundscape and a seven-screen synchronized orientation film.

Beyond the hands-on components, visitors learn about these culturally rich artifacts through interactive touch screens, that allow them to zoom in for a closer view of artifacts and scroll for more information.

Scientifically Tested, Gravity Defying Showcases

kubik maltbie coordinated with multiple team members representing a variety of disciplines to engineer and fabricate displays that met the rigorous criteria of the constituent organizations. The scope of work included production of showcases and graphics, audio visual integration, hardware installation, and coordination of onsite operations.

Large artifacts reside in ten massive, custom, preservation-grade showcases, each case suspended from a steel structure in the ceiling to meet seismic requirements. Inside the cases, artifacts are mounted from tensioned ¾” diameter stainless steel rods, engineered to minimize vibrations. Custom-designed stainless-steel brackets enable artifacts to be mounted at an infinite number of heights and angles.  Scientifically tested prototype stages ensured the reliability of anti-vibration mechanisms, timing the seconds of movement cessation to preserve the artifacts.

Showcases include desiccant chambers and electronic sensors to monitor and control humidity levels and air quality. Fiber optic lighting remotely located and ventilated in the ceiling, eliminaties heat build-up inside the cases.  Cases are electronically mechanized to allow periodic opening and closing with airtight gaskets ensuring hermetical sealing when the cases are closed. Interactive media displays, housed in custom stainless-steel kiosks, are mounted in a cantilever configuration that appear to defy gravity.

Conservators mounted and photographed each artifact at a Smithsonian facility in Maryland before anything shipped to Alaska, ensuring that all stakeholders approved of the artifact’s supports and presentations.  Through the engineering and prototype process, kubik maltbie improved the functionality of the display system.

“The team actively cultivated good working relationships with the architects, the exhibit designers, the specialty subcontractors, and the Museum staff. The quality of the outcome has surpassed our expectations.”

Sarah Barton

Owner’s Representative, Anchorage Museum Expansion