Oscar-winning firm will design the exhibits for Columbus Center


Associates & Ferren, an Academy Award-winning design firm that has worked with Walt Disney Imagineering, Paramount, Warner Brothers and others on movie special effects, has won the job of designing exhibits for the Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Research and Exploration.

Headed by Bran Ferren, the 12-year-old firm was recommended over five other nationally recognized architects and exhibit designers to work with the Zeidler Roberts Partnership of Toronto, the architects for the $164 million project planned for Piers 5 and 6 at the Inner Harbor.

The Columbus Center's exhibits will help visitors understand the wide array of research activities that will be going on inside the building, conceived as a "Smithsonian of the Seas" and Baltimore's next major Inner Harbor attraction. Planners have said they want a "pioneering, 21st century" exhibit design.

"It's an opportunity of a lifetime to get involved" with the Columbus Center, said Serge Popper, executive vice president in charge of production for Associates & Ferren. "Bran is mad about ecology. And he prides himself on being able to complete projects that people have not done before and say never can be done. To him, this is a doozie."

Among the company's past projects are the traveling exhibit for the Bill of Rights, which toured the country for 14 months to mark the document's 200th anniversary; a traveling exhibit on fiber optics for Corning Glass; and the lighting and special effects for New York's Studio 54 and Palladium nightclubs.

The Long Island-based company, which has 35 to 200 employees, depending on the amount of work it has at a given time, also has been instrumental in developing lighting and movie projection technology for concerts by Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Rush and Depeche Mode, among others. It invented a robotic camera for use on ABC-TV's "Prime Time Live."

Mr. Ferren has won two technical achievement awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. One was in 1983 for the invention of a computerized machine that simulates lightning; the other was in 1987 for a laser device used to help position actors and objects in tricky shooting situations, such as when one actor plays two roles and both characters are on screen at the same time.

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