Chicago Children’s Museum: Adventure with Babar, King of the Elephants

The design is inspired by the heartwarming stories of the classic de Brunoff tales. Nostalgic snapshots of Babar’s travels are transformed into immersive, referential environments that transport children, age three to eight years old, and their families to places of adventure.

Like a gigantic picture postcard come to life, colorful, glowing letters spell out “Babar” while defining the entry and welcoming visitors. Just beyond the entry, giant travel trunks, filled with elephant-sized belongings, lead children into Babar’s park. The merry-go-round presents all of the famed elephant’s famous modes of transportation, from the red convertible to the yellow hot air balloon. Children can dress up as book characters, a train conductor, or an artist. Many children will notice that the grillwork at the art nouveau-inspired ticket booth resembles the gentle elephant’s profile. The authors liked to employ a device, having elements resemble Babar, within the stories for children to find. Within the exhibit, that concept was utilized architecturally. A portal is shaped as if the elephant king just walked through it. The storytelling area resembles a large, suspended metal crown, its two dangling globes looking like Babar’s eyes.

During the concept development sessions with children, physical adventure was mentioned as an important element in Babar’s travels. The design solution included a jungle-like maze filled with bodily-kinesthetic challenges, including climbing, swinging, and balancing. Soft sculpture vines create the density of the forest, which then opens up into a clearing in the woods. The clearing contains sculptural metal trees that children decorate with celebratory or familial drawings and stories.

Owner:  Chicago Children’s Museum
Exhibit Design
:  Architecture Is Fun, Inc.
:  Chicago/Illinois
:  Concept 2005
:  © Doug Snower Photography