Museum Re-enacts History’s Heroism

Aug. 15, 2007

Charlotte, NC - When Roger Motiska learned his design firm had a shot to build the recently opened Medal of Honor Museum, he had just one goal in mind: submit a design that makes the heroism of medal recipients leap out from the displays and come to life. That vision won the project.

The museum, located aboard the USS Yorktown at Patriot's Point in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., explores the lives of those who have received the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor given by the armed services and normally bestowed by a U.S. president. There are only 109 living Medal of Honor recipients. The museum is sponsored and maintained by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

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"Most museums are just filled with artifacts. We didn't want to do a museum about artifacts. We wanted the stories behind the people who have won the medal to come alive," says Motiska about the Charlotte-based design firm, DJS Design. 

Recently, the museum opened during a gala event attended by more than 1,000 donors, retired military, media luminaries and government officials. News coverage of the museum reached more than 30 million people across the U.S. and around the world. More importantly, 41 living Congressional Medal of Honor recipients attended. Their reactions ranged from deep appreciation to tearful emotion. 

Gary LIttrell, a medal recipient who attended the opening, was quoted by Associated Press: "It was absolutely breathtaking, the tightness in the chest, the water in the eye."

For DJS, a national pioneering leader in environmental graphic design, reviews such as these showed their design was successful by all counts.

DJS was selected during an international search that included firms from the U.S., Canada and England and began work in 2004. Motiska led the design team, which was responsible for every aspect of the project, including master planning, architectural and interior design, as well as the museum exhibits, nearly doubling the exhibit space from 1,300 to 2,500 square feet.

According to museum officials, DJS met and surpassed its goal to bring history alive in the stories of the recipients. The museum space is packed with audiovisual stories about the recipients -- more movie than medals. The story of each hero, and the unique set of life circumstances that led him to his act of valor, is told by friends and relatives.  Traditional photos with captions are replaced by 11-foot towers of opaque glass that play riveting stories at the touch of a hand. The new exhibit is a major leap of recognition for a display that previously was tucked in an out-of-the-way place on the warship and frequently overlooked by visitors to Patriot's Point.

"Because of DJS Design's professionalism and concern for the smallest of details, the society has a museum that will help ensure that the 300,000 visitors we receive each year will gain a better understanding of the Medal of Honor and the history of the men and woman that have worn it and still wear it today," says Victoria Leslie, Director of Operations.

Motiska also noted a surprising fact about the armed services.

"The vast majority of people who serve in the military never actually see action," Motiska said. "We wanted to recreate what a battle was really like."

DJS developed a sound and picture tunnel activated by sensor chips as visitors pass. The tunnel stuns visitors with sound and pictures recreating the din of pitched combat.

"It's very dramatic and gives visitors a flavor of what it might be like to perform and act of valor under such circumstances," said Motiska.  

This field of environmental graphic design is a growing specialty dealing with interior and exterior graphics and displays, integrating signage, interactive design, marketing, branding, and directional graphics. Very few firms across the U.S. have expertise of this type -- often used in the building of museums, exhibits, athletic facilities, tourism sites, or office/government or higher education campuses - any location that has a strong need for communications, branding, graphics, and signage. 

DJS helped pioneer the field and has more than 35 years of experience with projects of national stature including The Hall of Life at the Denver Museum of Natural History, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Lowe's Charlotte Motor Speedway, and athletic facilities at Penn State, Boston College, and Virginia Tech. 

The Medal of Honor Museum has become one of DJS's most visible and memorable projects. "It's been three years in the making," said Motiska. "From the interviewing of the medal recipients, to the limited space, to working on an aircraft carrier with 2-inch thick hardened steel surfaces, it has been exciting every step of the way."

Yes, he notes, people can see the actual military medals. That, and much, much more.

DJS Design is a national leader and innovator in environmental graphic design. The Charlotte-based firm has been a pioneer in integrating graphic and industrial design with environmental branding, transforming space into experience for more than 35 years. Visit DJS Design at http://www.designjs.com/.

For more information please contact Rodger Motiska, DJS Design, phone (704) 376-0803 ext. 202 or [email protected]

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