If you are someone who is familiar with Chicago, you might have been perplexed by a large RV decorated with images of prominent Civil Rights leaders and activists touring the city. If so, you just passed Yazdani Studio’s Mobile Museum of Tolerance (Yazdani Studio is an integrated experimental studio within CannonDesign).
This highly recognizable automobile theater is one of Yazdani Studio’s latest explorations of architectural design flexibility and experimentation. In partnership with Illinois’s Simon Wiesenthal Center’s flagship educational initiative, the Yazdani studio team designed the mobile museum as an extension of the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in order to make the center’s work in social advocacy and human rights education in schools more accessible to the community.
The Mobile Museum is a standard RV that has been converted into a full theater, ornamented with collapsible and reconfigurable seating and a wall-to-wall screen display in order to operate as a learning lab for the schools partnered with the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The seating versatility allows for various programs to be hosted by the Mobile Museum. Being that the majority of the museum’s visitors are children, the interactive educational workshops hosted on the RV have the ability to comfortably engage with the media in a theater setup, then transition into a debate room or a small roundtable-style environment. In addition to the seating on the RV, the wall panels are also convertible and flip down to become work surfaces for students.
All conversations focus on topics such as bullying, racism, anti-Semitism, hate, and intolerance. Much of the programming of the museum uses the remembrance of the Holocaust as a tool to remind that hate and unchecked abuse towards specific groups can conjure the worst of humanity. In promotion of the works within the RV, the strongly decorated exterior hosts a graphic of prime voices against injustice such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Anne Frank, Mahatma Gandhi, and Rosa Parks, among others.
When speaking with AN about the project, Mehrdad Yazdani, founder and principal of Yazdani Studio, stated that the goal was not to design an exhibition around objects, but create experiences around ideas.
“When going through the museum, there is less emphasis on displaying objects, old pictures, and artifacts,” explained Yazdani. “They [the Museum of Tolerance] are showing you films, talking about events, and extracting human rights issues from them, to ask, ‘how would you [the viewer] respond to this situation?” The museum, Yazdani continued, is about “helping and empowering you to act with tolerance to present and future events.” The goal of the project and those that engage with it are to practice immersion, emotion, and interaction.
For the children that participate in programs in the Mobile Museum, the ambition of the project runs on their ability to learn that anti-hate practices are actions that we all must take personal responsibility for. With high-tech immersive activities and videos, the museum is attempting to excite children and adults alike and provide the skills needed in order to activate motivation to act strategically in uplifting young voices to speak out against hate and injustice.
The Mobile Museum of Tolerance is starting its journey in Chicago but has planned to expand its tour into the greater Illinois area and reach over 150 communities in-state and more than 30,000 students per year. As with many of the programs run by the Museum of Tolerance in L.A., there is also an initiative to expand the museum past primary education systems, and into workplaces and police departments in Illinois to provide tolerance training and conversations on equity all-inclusively.