A rendering of the Museum Lab lobby. Courtesy of Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Their work poses an interesting challenge: For the most part, the design needs to serve as something of a blank canvas for the exhibits and workspaces that will fill each room. In concert with the Children’s Museum’s mission of “inspiring creativity, curiosity and joy” for kids, the team has used the building’s soaring ceilings and architectural relics to fuel kids’ imaginations.

But while Werner, Eizenberg, Cieslak and Saunders have concentrated on those creative challenges, that has left the team’s fifth member with an interesting challenge of her own. As head of the capital campaign, Larrimer was charged with presenting the project to donors throughout the region and helping them see the importance of donating to the construction of the Museum Lab.

Fortunately, Larrimer says, “from the very start, what we realized was that we had something that could appeal to everybody in one way or another.”

Some donors focused on Museum Lab’s goal of bringing hands-on learning and inspiration to underprivileged students, while others were drawn to the idea of restoring the remarkable old Carnegie Free Library building that had fallen into what the team lovingly calls “a beautiful ruin.”

The sustainability and green building certification aspect appealed to other people. And many others, Larrimer says, were inspired by Museum Lab’s particular focus on students in the 9- to 14-year-old age group. 

Offering hands-on learning to this age group of kids who are “trying to figure out what they like and what they want to do with their lives” is vital, Larrimer says. As Pittsburgh looks to build a thriving and successful workforce for the future, she says many are asking, “Are we really developing the right skills and talents that we need for the jobs we’ll have?”

Closeup of the “Gymlacium” ropes. Photo courtesy of Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

In response, Museum Lab will offer everything from wood and metal working to virtual reality technology and 3D printing — “things that are going to give children these experiences and may open up whole new avenues for what they’d want to do in their lives,” Larrimer says.

And in a unique twist on experimenting and discovering, the building will offer one more remarkable surprise: an enormous, still-under-construction web of ropes, slides, hammocks and “lounges” strung through three open floors of the metal stacks that once held the library’s collection of books.

Designed by the Slovenian artist Manca Ahlin, whose background is in architecture and is inspired by the Slovenian tradition of lacing art, this sprawling installation called “Gymlacium” will allow tweens and teenagers to climb and crawl and perch in mid-air, further fueling their imaginations.

It’s no surprise, given the many twists and turns of this project, that this climbing installation won’t be entirely finished by the time Museum Lab opens in late April. But even that is an opportunity for learning: Visitors of all ages can watch the final phase of the “Gymlacium” installation’s construction as it happens. Rather than keep it under wraps until it’s perfect, the team is pleased that kids can draw inspiration from the effort that goes into creating it.

“Our philosophy has been that the building has a story to tell and we want to celebrate the scars that tell that story,” Cieslak says, “and show the resilience of this building.”

Through their own resilience and ability to adapt, this team of women is making that possible.

Visit Museum Lab beginning in late April.