John Bull / Uncle Sam
Library of Congress
Biber Architects and Pentagram’s Abbott Miller designed the exhibition ‘John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations’ for the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The show focused on the relationship between the United States and Great Britain, from pre-Revolutionary times to the present day. Topics covered include popular culture, technology, language and literature, as well as historical events such as WWII. The show was installed in the vast North Curtain of the Library of Congress.
The historic space is home to colorful murals and grand coffered ceilings, and the designers used oversized graphics to amplify the exhibition content within the elaborate interior. The interior architecture couldn’t be attached to any temporary installation, and the freestanding solution floats a complex and winding exhibit within the vast hall.
Visitors promenaded through the space in both directions because of the halls unique circulation. The arrangement of spaces and artifacts had to work in both directions while competing with the magnificent architecture of the Library of Congress. Our solution was a series of signage ‘flags’ atop the previously designed cases. The signage created a visual bridge between the lavish atmosphere of the hall and the personal, historic value of the displayed artifacts. The oversized ‘flags’ were created from steel grids patterned after the stripes of the U.S. flag and the cross of the Union Jack, and the presence of these signs within the show’s meandering layout suggested the journey inherent to cultural cross-pollination.
The show’s more than 250 artifacts were a vast palette of cross cultural evidence, but the middle of the show explored popular culture in a magnificent rotunda. The crowded ‘streets’ of the exhibit give way to the vast plaza of the round space. As if folded on itself, the exhibit gave a sense of meandering freedom to visitor.