Planet Word: The World’s First Voice-Activated Museum of Language

Planet Word is a linguistic wonderland and the world’s first voice-activated museum. Opened in 2020, the museum set a new bar for visitor engagement and gave new life to Washington, D.C’s landmark Franklin School (built in 1869). visitors use their voices to interact with exhibits, while hearing from a diverse cast of leaders, authors, and orators who share what language means to them.

 

Every one of Planet Word’s immersive galleries features an iconic, participatory experience. There are no artifacts or casework—it’s visitors and their words that are on display. Among the activities to be discovered:

  • In the introductory gallery Where Do Words Come From?, a massive wall composed of over 1,000 three-dimensional words comes to life by speaking aloud, asking visitors questions, and responding with a lively combination of sound, animation, and detailed projection mapping. This wall uses its voice to address stereotypes and misconceptions about how language works — for example, the idea that “ain’t ain’t a word” and presenting evidence for language as a living thing that goes beyond what’s in the dictionary, and is shaped by us all   
  • The Library is a magical place where the wonders of imagination and literature collide. Visitors pull an RFID-tagged book from a shelf, place it on the surface before them and watch as the characters, settings, and important moments come to life in front of their eyes. As birds fly, basketballs bounce, and Alice falls down the rabbit hole, visitors hear cinematic narration that describes what makes each book special, as well as original audio of authors describing why they wrote these beloved works of literature.
    • In the Word Worlds gallery, visitors use a smart paint brush to “paint” with descriptive words like “hibernal” and “crepuscular.” As they move their brush along the wall, the landscape comes to life with imagery, motion, and sound effects that reflect the meaning of that particular word. 
    • The Spoken World boasts a stunning 4,800-LED kinetic sculpture. The spectacle is in service of creating personal, face-to-face experiences with native speakers from 6 continents, who demonstrate what is unique about 28 different languages — many of them rare or endangered — and two signed languages. 
  • Unlock the Music feels like a contemporary karaoke lounge. Lyrics are displayed in time with the music. At banquettes around the space, guests use iPads to request songs they would like to perform. The exhibit MC introduces each song, including a story about the techniques heard in the song, and visuals underscore the techniques by highlighting patterns across lyrics.
  • In I’m Sold, visitors enter a “media spiral” composed of 25 screens displaying hundreds of ads streaming horizontally past them. The spiral is divided into sections, each describing a specific copywriting technique. Each section of screens provides an “x-ray” effect, highlighting the copy in ads that use that technique. At the center of the spiral, visitors can create their own ads using the techniques featured.