Above and Below: Stories From Our Changing Bay

August 31, 2013–February 23, 2014


ABOVE AND BELOW unveiled the quirky stories of how people and nature together have shaped the San Francisco Bay Area over the last 6,000 years. This massive, multiple award-winning, 12,200-square-foot exhibition explored how human engineering and natural forces have come together over time to shape and reshape the land and water around the Bay, and how sea-level rise, wetlands restoration, invasive species, and climate change are central topics in determining the future of the Bay.

I served as the lead graphic designer on the project, providing concept and branding, exhibit design, exhibit graphics, advertising, and marketing collateral. In addition, I designed the accompanying publication for the exhibit, READING THE LANDSCAPE: A FIELD GUIDE FOR IN & AROUND THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY.

ABOVE AND BELOW was the recipient of both the 2014 Award of Merit and the 2014 History in Progress award by the American Association of State and Local History. The Award of Merit is given to an exhibition that is "highly inspirational, exhibits exceptional scholarship, and/or is exceedingly entrepreneurial in terms of funding, partnerships, or collaborations, creative problem solving, or unusual project design and inclusiveness."

The exhibit also received the 2014 Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Award for Exhibition Excellence from the Western Museums Association. The nomination committee stated that ABOVE AND BELOW "truly exemplifies exhibition excellence as it as it brings its visitors through the hybrid landscape and a unique historical perspective of a major Western, as well as, global city." Finally, ABOVE AND BELOW received the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's 2014 Excellence in Motion Award of Merit for Showcasing the Bridge & Bay

Creative Direction  |  Identity + Mark  |  Illustration  |  Exhibit Design  |  Elevations  |  Graphic Design|  Editorial Design + Layout|  Cartography



The mark had a very strong conceptual basis in the exhibit's interpretive plan. Several ideas are expressed that were important to the curatorial team, first, the notion of the horizon line which suggests that there is content out of view, beneath the surface. Then the contrast between human structures such as bridges—evidenced in "Above," a modified version of Hellenic Wide—and the organic flow of life under the water, demonstrated by the floating, wave-form of "Below." The interlocking letters further the reading of a bridge's metalwork.

Finally, the ying-yang relationship between humans, non-human life, and the natural environment is expressed in the interplay between positive and negative space in the "o's." The narrative of the exhibit is that this is not conflict but rather an elaborate, evolving dance. This central motif was the anchor for the curatorial wall in the entry lobby.



The exhibit was presented in two adjoining gallery spaces. BELOW immersed visitors in an ethereal,  at 3,700 square feet underwater environment through color, lighting, projections, and ambient audio. Artifacts and objects were displayed as being in their native environment.

The typographic hierarchy directly suggested classic American science textbooks of the mid-twentieth century, with an emphasis on annotation as a primary aesthetic; all panels and sections adhered to a numbering system, i.e. 02.04.01. Circular cropping reinforced the forms established by the exhibit mark.

Text panels were suspended on anchored, weathered ropes, as if adrift in the Bay.

Large mural graphics were printed on scrims throughout, and dock pilings complete with barnacles indicated the waterline to compliment the large scale photography in the Bay Edge section. 

Infographics followed the same hierarchy and flow as primary text panels.

The Contaminants Subsection featured a laboratory-style setting, using biohazard vernacular to convey the dangers of the subject matter and the threat they pose to the Bay.

An elaborate infographic explained how tides work and charted a 24 hour period of tidal activity.

This graphic was printed on a large scrim and displayed to add context to the tide table artwork in front of it.

The primary interactive space was set apart from the gallery in pure white. The section on underwater diving and submarines used a custom-made submarine net of vintage rope as an innovative example of artifact protection. Mike Moss assisted in some areas of BELOW.



ABOVE occupied the primary, 7,200 square foot gallery. A massive aerial photograph composite covered much of the central floor space, allowing people—as they are eager—to point out their house from above. 

The navigation system for the main sections in this space was a series of color-coded totems, each with a primary image. The grayscale circular highlight knocked out of each color again reinforces the notion of something revealed to the visitor.

The typographic hierarchy began at the section title level on the totems, and continued that structure down to the subsection panel, reader rail, and case label elements.

In BRIDGES, an interactive bridge building activity demonstrated the physics principles involved in designing and constructing the new Bay Bridge. Artifacts included a vintage toll booth neon sign and clock.

Visitors could also admire CalTrans' large archive of vintage construction blueprints for the original Bay Bridge, in addition to various plans that never made it off the drawing board.

In SHELLMOUNDS, I was assisted by graphic designer Auburn Leigh, who was working on OMCA's Natural Sciences Gallery project at the time. Here is the story of the original Ohlone people of the Bay Area, with eras of time broken out into wing walls jutting out from a mural commissioned by a contemporary artist to portray pre-colonial settlements and livelihood.

In both ISLANDS and MILITARY LANDSCAPES, I was assisted by Tom Klump at inktank design. ISLANDS inferred the isolation of both prisoners and immigrants awaiting processing on Angel Island and Alcatraz. The space was dark, with a single light bulb hanging above. Ambient soundscapes recorded on location by our media producer completed the immersion. A massive mural of a vintage panoramic of Angel Island served as the background for actual poems—rendered in the original Chinese and English—carved into the walls of cells at the facilities there. 

MILITARY LANDSCAPES showcased the Bay Area's history with the Pacific Fleet, particularly during World War II. One of the most compelling elements of this section was a large scale, information design piece in 3D that demonstrated troop deployments, ships, airports, munitions, and square miles of various bases. 

We procured various military surplus articles such as ammo boxes and grenades, as well as toy model planes and boats, and displayed them relative to their numbers. Authentic stenciling from the period completed the look; a chart come to life.


The rear of the gallery featured the BAYLANDS and SOMETHING sections, as well as the BAY FUTURES lounge. Here stories of salt mining and hunting are told.

FUTURES presented an opportunity to look back at past visions of the Bay's future, and also to pose questions to visitors about where we might be headed in the 21st century with regards to development, transportation, technology, and energy uses.



The concept for the ABOVE AND BELOW campaign was to feature slightly abstract, textural photography of the Bay's more unusual features—i.e. things not stereotypically "San Francisco"—framed in the 'underneath' portion of the exhibit mark's horizon.

Various print and transit ads.



To accompany to exhibit, I designed a Field Guide which intended to let the visitor explore specific geographic features and locales around the Bay after they have experienced the exhibit. The guide was distributed beyond the museum to schools and various science and nature NGOs by our primary content partner, the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI).

The design followed the exhibit look and feel closely. Dramatic photography from the air was utilized from the large format HD footage filmed by helicopter. The camera traced the complete edge contours of the bay, and this short film was shown on loop at the entrance to the ABOVE gallery.