How much for a hole?

Thousands of shells
Thousands of shells

AST Exhibits built this shell mound as part of the Calusa Exhibit in Marco Island, FL

One of the true joys of building museum exhibits is the wide range of things we get to design and build. In my 25 years of experience in this business, I have designed and built all kinds of fun and unusual objects and environments. Recently, I was asked to build something that gave even me reason to pause.

A local history center called to ask me how much it would cost to cut a hole into their existing shell mound exhibit and build an exhibit that illuminates the structure of that shell mound.

When I got back to the office, I kept thinking about what they were asking me for. They wanted to know how much it would cost to build a hole.

Sometimes what clients ask for costs very little to produce, but the things that you need to do to support that request are where the real work is.

This was a perfect example. A hole is just that. A hole. How much does a hole cost? Well, the hole costs nothing. Removing what is already there and building the structure that keeps the rest of the world from falling into that hole is where the expense is.

So back in the office, we had an existential conversation about creating and containing a hole, or nothing if you will. After all, what good was all our education, ability, and experience if all our clients wanted from us was nothing? Where do we fit in to a world where what a client values is our ability to produce a space void of anything? What do the pricing structures look like for something like this?

Around the design studio, I had to figure out how to assign tasks around this request. Who is my go-to designer for nothing? Who do I choose to be the project manager for producing nothing? How do I decide who is best qualified to build nothing? Do I even need any of these people?

After I finished amusing myself in this manner for a few minutes, I got back to work. It turns out that our process at AST Exhibits works well for even this type of odd request. We broke the project down into smaller parts, calculated labor and materials, and issued the client a proposal to do the work they requested.

We will be sure to share the evolution of this project as it moves forward…unless of course it turns into nothing.