The Los Angeles Children's Museum will join about 250 youth museums around the nation, with 70 others in the planning or construction stage. Museum advocates say it is vital for children to have a discovery and exploration space to call their own.
"At a children's museum, they can find out that playing is a way to learn," said Janet Rice Elman, executive director of the Assn. of Children's Museums in Washington, D.C.
Los Angeles architect Sarah Graham infused the building design with "green" elements that take advantage of the site's natural surroundings.
The elongated wedge-shaped two-story structure will nestle against a slope, integrating it with the terrain instead of towering above it. To help cool the building, the structure will have roof-mounted misters that visitors can stroll through.
Graham added playful touches as well. Part of the building exterior will be coated with blackboard paint so that children can draw on it. And solar panels for supplying electricity will be arranged against the building like spots on a cow.
"We did that so it would be noticed and to encourage children to ask questions about how energy is generated," said Graham, whose design projects have included Midfield Terminal at Zurich International Airport in Switzerland and an aerial tram being built in Portland, Ore.
Inside, where many little hands and feet will be a force to contend with, enameled steel, tough plastics and other durable materials have been included in the design.
"The phrase we use," Dierking said, chuckling, "is that it has to be combat ready."
Edwin Schlossberg, whose New York-based firm is designing the exhibits, said he aims to take the term "interactive museum" to a new level in Los Angeles by avoiding the traditional pushbuttons and video screens with signs saying "Learn more."
The term "interactive" is trendy but often misunderstood, said Schlossberg, who has devised exhibits for dozens of cultural institutions, including the Immigration History Center on Ellis Island.
"The minute you introduce video, you aren't interacting with it," he said. "You're getting a message someone wants to convey."
He hopes that children who have spent a day at the museum will have had fun but will also be newly excited about the world around them.
"We've worked really hard not just to show the interdependence of our lives, but that it takes collaboration to be human beings," he said. "I would love it if they learned that it's both what you know and what your friends know that makes a difference."