Museums are always looking for new and unusual presentation methods. The Historical Museum in Frankfurt is displaying various models of the city under an enormous ACRYLITE® dome.
The giant ACRYLITE® snow globe in the Frankfurt Historical Museum is not only used to showcase the exhibits, but is also a truly spectacular exhibit in its own right. Raised up from the cellar by an industrial robot, the models depict eight different perspectives of the city of Frankfurt. Not only is it fascinating and interesting – it is also an unusual way to present exhibits.
Visitors can select each of the eight models at the touch of a button. “Visitors really like this way of presenting exhibits and try to get as close to the ACRYLITE® dome as they can. The concept provides them with a full view of the robot working in the illuminated room, one level below the snow globe,” says the museum’s Director, Dr. Jan Gerchow. “It is just like a giant jukebox.”
Snow globe meets multimedia presentation
Instead of simply depicting the history of the city of Frankfurt, the models created by international artists show the city’s different facets. Frankfurt is painted as a financial center, as an invention capital, or as a city characterized by numerous construction sites. While the model makes its way upwards into the globe, accompanying animations are projected on the snow globe, which is as tall as an adult man. “The installation is truly spectacular, however, it is more a poetic than overwhelming exhibit. It gives visitors the time and space to really think about the scenes created by the artists,” says Dr. Gerchow.
Dr. Gerchow is convinced that “the snow globe is the most exceptional exhibit in the entire museum." I think all visitors will take their time exploring it.” He also adds that it is unlikely that all visitors will see all eight models. All in all, it takes six minutes to switch the models. It takes three minutes for the robot to move the models up and down, and each model then rotates in the snow globe and is illuminated for three minutes.
Perfect view of the exhibits
Facts and figures on the ACRYLITE® acrylic snow globe
A 705 pound block of ACRYLITE® block was used to create the snow globe. The completed globe has a diameter of 7.8 feet and is 5.2 feet tall (excluding the base) and 1.181 inches thick, and has a net weight of 462 pounds. Its transparent, colorless, smooth and seamless design ensures that visitors at the Frankfurt Historical Museum have an unobstructed view of the exhibits inside the globe. The globe was manufactured by the ACRYLITE® partners at Birkholz Kunststoffwerk GmbH from Heppenheim.
The snow globe was manufactured from Röhm’s brand of acrylic, ACRYLITE®. Why? “The material boasts outstanding optical properties. It was imperative that the material of the globe was colorless, not tinted, and could withstand regular polishing without affecting the surface. This meant that ACRYLITE® block was the ideal choice for us. ACRYLITE® acrylic is highly transparent and offers an unobstructed view of the models inside the globe, even given its curved shape,” explains Thomas Schmitt, Managing Director at Birkholz Kunststoffwerk GmbH. The company was commissioned to manufacture the snow globe by inSynergie GmbH, the general contractor for installation.
Breaking new ground with a 20 foot Acrylic Block
The path to the finished installation was marked by many obstacles and the production of the giant snow globe proved to be quite challenging. Schmitt and his colleagues had to break new ground in the process. “We are quite familiar with forming sheets made of transparent plastics, but we never had to shape sheets of this size,” said Schmitt. The 1.181 inch thick ACRYLITE® acrylic blocks are usually 6.5 feet wide and 9.83 feet long, but that was not enough to manufacture the snow globe. Röhm therefore supplied a block which was 19.6 feet by 9.83 feet, a size that is usually used to create breathtaking large aquariums and spectacular swimming pools. This size was sufficient to produce both a sample, as well as the final snow globe.
Forming the globe
"There simply is no other material with these outstanding optical properties – much less at this size."
- Thomas Schmitt
Managing Director at Birkholz Kunststoffwerk GmbH
First, they had to modify the oven they were going to use for heating the acrylic, as it was originally designed for material with a width of no more than 8 feet. Then plastic experts at Birkholz began the process by heating the ACRYLITE® acrylic block for two hours in an oven at 365°F. The heated acrylic was then stretched over a hollow mold made of foam material and formed it into a globe, by sucking it into the mold using vacuum pumps. The team did need to revise the mold and modify the framing system but eventually succeeded in producing a globe with the desired properties. The greatest challenge in manufacturing the sphere was stretching the material beyond that of a hemisphere to reach the base of the exhibit to resemble an actual snow globe.
“We are highly satisfied with the result. We have had only good experiences with ACRYLITE® in the past. The round shape in particular meant that extremely high requirements were placed on the material,” says Dr. Gerchow in retrospect. “The snow globe is truly extraordinary. And it is something that all generations enjoy.”
After cooling, the employees removed the globe from the hollow mold, but it would be wrong to think that this already marked the end of a successful project. “Two colleagues spent two weeks grinding and polishing the entire globe surface in an elaborate manual process, until it sparkled like a diamond,” recalls Schmitt.
Transported into the museum by crane
The globe’s 38 mile journey from Heppenheim in southern Hesse to Frankfurt went very smoothly. Using a crane, the 462 lb. snow globe was lifted into the basement of the museum through an opening in the floor. “It was a fantastic feeling to witness our globe being fitted onto the base. We were just really happy and proud to see that all our plans finally came to fruition,” says Schmitt.
Since the museum reopened in October 2017, the snow globe still shines as new and attracts a lot of visitors.