Yazdani Studio, a boutique branch of CannonDesign, has completed a permanent exhibition, the Claudia and Nelson Peltz Social Lab, at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles (MOTLA), by transforming 10,000 square feet of the five-story museum’s main level into an interactive gallery experience.
In 1993, Rabbi Marvin Hier founded MOTLA as part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), a Jewish global human rights organization, to educate and inspire young people who are generations removed from the Holocaust to take action against racism, bigotry, and anti-Semitism.
The new Social Lab continues the museum’s lessons on tolerance but presents issues using the universal language of technology. Throughout the installation, translucent “veils” that are made of metal coils and suspended from the ceiling to separate areas. These mesh-like divides do double duty as screens upon which films and other media are projected. Unlike traditional, static museum environments, this digital focus, notes design principal Mehrdad Yazdani, “gives the museum the ability to evolve and change the content.”
The architects designed 15 distinct spaces for the SWC content that addresses tolerance on increasing scales—starting with individual biases in the entry sequence, to local issues, national conflicts, and global crises—pointing to the actions that ripple through communities and onto the world stage.
In a 70-foot long chamber called We the People, for example, LED touch-screen panels outline tolerance and diversity (or lack thereof) from different eras in American history, up to and including the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“The content is heavy,” Yazdani says, “but we’ve made sure the environment is vibrant, informative, and exciting.” Other media displays include the Point of View exhibit, a 15x15 foot translucent glass cube with an internal projection system showing different perspectives of local issues, including homelessness, LGBTQ+ equity, and policing.
The team designed the exhibition to culminate in one final call to action, offering applicable takeaways for daily life, after which the visitors’ last experience is a humorous short film called “The Power of Comedy,” narrated by Billy Crystal. “Life would be insurmountable if everything were negative,” says Rabbi Marvin Hier. “In this world that we live, we can’t live our lives without laughing.”
The new MOTLA exhibition, funded by private donors as well as a $10 million grant from the State of California, is the latest in a 25-year history of collaboration between the institution and Yazdani Studio. The firm completed a museum expansion in 2008 and has designed several other exhibitions since, including the Mobile MOT, the recent conversion of a 40-foot RV into a roving satellite campus in Chicago. The studio’s designs will also be included in the new Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, opening in 2022.
In addition to the construction of the Social Lab, the MOTLA is currently updating its facilities with health and safety protocols courtesy of a CARES Fund grant through the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. After a long pandemic-induced delay, the exhibition will open to the public later this summer.