Revolutionary voice-activated museum opens in Washington, D.C.
Monday, November 16, 2020
Revolutionary, both for its purpose and its cutting-edge technology, Planet Word, the world’s first voice-activated museum, debuted Oct. 22 in Washington, D.C.
Dedicated to the “power, beauty and fun of language,” it helps show how words shape the human experience. Planet Word is the first major museum anywhere to take a high-tech approach to bringing language to life. It features 10 immersive learning galleries that employ technology in novel ways to reimagine the typical museum experience.
The new museum, housed in the Franklin School, at 13th & K Streets NW, is a National Historic Landmark building and the site of the city’s first public school and, interestingly enough, home to the world’s first wireless voice transmission — a feat achieved by Alexander Graham Bell in 1880.
Founded by philanthropist Ann Friedman of Bethesda, Maryland, a real estate heiress and educator who is married to Thomas L. Friedman, foreign affairs correspondent for The New York Times, Planet Word opens amid a pandemic that has decimated tourism, including museum attendance, in Washington.
“During the coronavirus pandemic, our focus has remained on the health and safety of our employees, contractors, and future visitors,” said Friedman in a press release. “We’ve continued to work on designing immersive and interactive galleries, curating content to feature in our exhibits, and revitalizing the historic Franklin School.”
Like other museums that have opened or reopened during the pandemic, Planet Word is open on a limited basis with safety protocols in place. General admission is free but visitors must register in advance for timed tickets. Masks are required and social distancing measures are being enforced. The museum also provides stylus pens for its interactive exhibits so visitors won’t have to touch surfaces.
One of the museum’s most outstanding voice-activated exhibits is “Where Do Words Come From?” It’s a 22-foot-tall talking word wall that shares a story of the English language through a conversation with visitors and some extraordinary lighting effects.
Other highlights include an acoustically sealed room where visitors use a teleprompter to deliver one of eight historically significant speeches; a karaoke lounge where music lovers learn secrets of great songwriting, and a secret pottery nook hidden in the stacks of a magical library. In still other galleries, visitors can develop an advertising campaign, literally paint with words using “smart” paint brushes, and converse with native speakers of languages both widely spoken and endangered.
In the newly created courtyard entrance to the museum, “Speaking Willow” — the first permanent installation in Washington, D.C., by renowned contemporary artist Raphael Lozano-Hemmer — provides an immersive language experience for visitors entering Planet Word.
The metal sculpture, resembling a weeping willow, plays voice recordings from hundreds of different languages as visitors pass beneath its branches. The interactive sound-and-light sculpture features 364 individual speakers and 3.6 miles of ethernet cable.
Planet Word has recently established a multifaceted partnership with Shared_Studios, a global collective that creates meaningful connections between people separated by distance and difference through transformative conversations in both immersive and virtual environments.
The museum is home to one of Shared_Studios’ portals that is outfitted with immersive AV technology enabling visitors to converse and interact with people from the around the world as if in the same room.
Visitors to the Planet Word Portal can make live connections with others across the globe — and in doing so discover the richness of languages and how words shape our lives, our decisions and our relationships.
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