In 1962, experimental designer Ken Isaacs imagined and constructed a ‘knowledge box’, a compressed environment for experiencing ‘culture’: a cube of wood, masonite and steel equipped with twenty-four slide projectors and audio-suppliers. Briefly: a pre-internet device to transmit narratives in a non-linear way, an immersive environment between artistic installation and interaction design which questioned the “passive” models of transmission of information.
As the imagination of many men creates a fantastic new world, the danger is that individual man may soon find himself lost in it. He may be expert in his own special field — microbiology, perhaps — but otherwise remains an ignoramus. New teaching techniques and devices are therefore much required in order to cram as much knowledge as possible, as fast as possible, into his swimming brain.
Out of the imagination of one specialist, 32-year-old designer Ken Isaacs of the Illinois Institute of Technology, has come a machine called a “knowledge box” that he hopes will help fill this need. Isaacs, peering from inside his weird cellular contrivance, believes that the traditional classroom environment is as ill-suited for learning as a ball park. Inside the knowledge box, alone and quiet, the student would see a rapid procession of thoughts and ideas projected on walls, ceilings and floor in a panoply of pictures, words and light patterns, leaving the mid to conclude for itself. It is a machine of visual impact that could depict, for example, a history of the Civil War in a single session, or just as easily give a waiting astronaut a lesson in celestial navigation.
(From a Life Magazine article “The Knowledge Box”. September 14, 1962 )
Not long after it was featured in a LIFE Magazine article, the Knowledge Box was dismantled and put into storage, only to be rebuilt and put back on display at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Galleries.
Enter the Matrix: An Interview with Ken Isaacs by Susan Snodgrass
The ‘Knowledge Box’: Picture an Early, Trippy, Analog, 3-D Wikipedia. By Ben Cosgrove