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The 2017 Design+ Operation Guide
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History and Introduction

Tim Barry

By Tim Barry
and Members of the IPS Planetarium Designand Operations Committee



So, you want to build a planetarium. Are you sure?


In 1959, if you wanted to build a planetarium, you could have gone to the proceedings of the previous September’s symposium held at the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, called Planetaria and their Use for Education. There were four presentations at the symposium on design, construction, and equipment on pages 130-157.

In 1994, a great resource, So You Want to Build a Planetarium, was written by the Planetarium Development Group. Ken Wilson was the chairman, and Elmer Bataitis, Peter Kohler, Gary Lazich, James Manning, Michael Murray, Sharon K. Parker, and Dr. James Sweitzer were contributors.

Also in 1994, the IPS Planetarium Development Guide was started by Ken Wilson, Kevin Scott, Lee Hines, Kris McCall, Jack Dunn, Karl von Ahnen, Karen Klamczynski, Mike Shanahan, Alan Gould, Clint Hatchett, Jeffrey Hunt, and Roy Morris. The 1994 resources have great checklists, a glossary, a bibliography, questions sets, and tips on operations, and describe the team that will be needed for your new planetarium. All these materials are available on the IPS website, on the Planetarium Development webpage, at

In all the 1994 materials, there is one paragraph about “the most revolutionary new designs in planetarium instruments … the Digistar computer graphics planetarium from the Evans & Sutherland Company ... uses a powerful, real time, computer graphics system to draw the stars as dots onto an ultra-bright cathode ray tube (CRT) coupled to a single, large wide-angle lens system.”

So, in the 20-plus years since those publications, a few things have changed, and So You Want to Build a Planetarium needs an update as well.

Thomas Kraupe, during his recent tenure as IPS president, began the IPS Design and Operations Committee, and established a goal to update those materials. Certainly the update will incorporate the massive growth in digital systems, but must still include opto-mechanical systems and hybrids as well.

Other new and old topics that will be updated cover a wide range: fire regulations, emergency exiting and signage, accessibility for the disabled, seating, ergonomics, lighting, acoustics, environmental comfort, sustainability, staffing, scheduling, management, revenue generation, special events, plus whatever else you need.

So, beginning with this article, we will publish the IPS 2017 Design+ Operations Guide in installments in Planetarian. Simultaneously, we will post the same and supplementary materials on the IPS website for easy reference and download. This installment will provide an overview of the design and construction process, then dig down into the first step in the sequence, the Design Brief and Goals. Subsequent installments will dig further into concepts and criteria, and then progress through the design and construction issues as they occur over time.

If there are topics you would like added, please let us know and we will add them. The Design and Operations Committee is available to help you with your specific project and your unique needs.

So, we will begin to add to the history of resources offered by IPS to its members and the general public. We will follow in the spirit described by Frank C. Jettny, ISPE executive director, in the 1974 Planetarium Handbook: “Such publications are possible only if all planetarians are united toward the goal of ready intercommunications for a free exchange of knowledge and ideas. ISPE was formed for this very purpose.” The International Society of Planetarium Educators, of course, was beginnings of IPS, so we are continuing in a great tradition of the free exchange of knowledge and ideas.

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