Elvis is in the Building
Biber Architects designed the exhibition "Elvis Is In the Building" with Michael Bierut of Pentagram, for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. The show featured over 100 artifacts culled from Graceland’s archives and the collections of Presley associates like Colonel Tom Parker and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. It was the single largest Elvis exhibition ever to appear outside of Memphis and the first time the museum had dedicated an entire exhibition to a single artist.
The former ‘Hall of Fame’ space’s floor plan and its location at the museum’s apex made it an ideal place for a show on the King. The space is a fantastic one: a near-perfect cube you enter through a spiral staircase right into the center of the room. The physical properties of the space gave us a real opportunity to create a ‘Temple to Elvis’.
The show was organized into four segments, each presented along a gallery wall: The Early Years, for Presley family artifacts; The Army and Hollywood Years, displaying uniforms and movie costumes; the Concert Years, documenting his performing career; and Personal Life, highlighting items like Presley’s shot-out television set (once used for target practice).
Biber Architects used cues from the Elvis legend to design the exhibit. The walls and floor were covered in stripes of bold colors, inspired by Graceland’s interiors. Bringing an exuberant sense to the space and banishing any "museum gray," the color backgrounds helped unify and differentiate the four sections of the exhibit. The colors were drawn from and corresponded to phases in Elvis’ life: yellow and blue from Graceland, pink from the Cadillacs he owned and gave to his mother, olive green drab from his years in the army, and vibrant "Kid Gallahad" colors from his Hollywood movies.
The exhibit artifacts appeared in large display cases shaped like the letter "E," Elvis’ nickname. Velvet ropes served as visitor railings. Four famous Elvis LP covers were blown up to the size of tapestries and hung from the ceiling, capping the space.
"It’s organized like a traditional chapel, à la the Pazzi Chapel in Florence, but with a campy attitude. The space suggested the idea, but so did Elvis’ relationship with his fans," said Biber, the exhibit architect.
Bierut coined the show’s title "Elvis Is In the Building," from the familiar line "Elvis has left the building." A special typeface was drawn with a modified "e" to spotlight that very key initial. A vital, sexy portrait of Elvis was chosen as the iconic image for the show’s identity and promotions, including "e-shirts" sold in the museum’s gift shop.
The exhibit drew record crowds to the museum.