Photo courtesy of Adler
Wight & Company Designs Interior of the Adler Planetarium’s Spectacular, New Grainger Sky Theater—The Closest Thing to Space Travel Without Leaving Earth

July 18, 2011

Wight & Company, a leader in integrated architecture, engineering and construction solutions, has designed the interior of the Adler Planetarium’s Grainger Sky Theater, which opened to the public on July 8, 2011. The Grainger Sky Theater is the centerpiece of the Adler’s new Deep Space Adventure, an immersive space experience like no other in the world. The Grainger Sky Theater offers audiences the most technologically advanced theater experience ever developed, featuring space imagery in the highest resolution and quality possible. Audiences will encounter the universe at a level of realism that can only be surpassed by actual space travel.

Wight designed and coordinated the rehab of the theater’s interior, which had minimal renovations since its construction in 1930. The one-and-a-half-year project involved removing the historic Zeiss Mark VI “Starball” projection system from 1970; reconfiguring the dome’s shape; and installing a new raised floor with integral LED lighting and a state-of-the-art, seamless, hyper-curved screen.

Instead of sitting in the round and looking upward, visitors are now fully immersed within a hemispherical screen enveloped by spectacular imagery. Some 400 synchronized LED puck lights in the floor convey a sense of motion by changing colors and levels of light throughout the show and also resolved typical building code requirements. The illusion of traveling through space is enhanced by the new dome’s extension beneath the audience’s line of sight.

“The Adler's vision was to create a revolutionary, immersive space experience. The Grainger Sky Theater project was truly a collaborative effort with Wight, leading scientists, engineers, construction managers and specialists in theater technology—all working together to create an experience unrivaled by any planetarium in the world,” said Doug Roberts, the Adler’s chief technology officer.

Some of the most notable features of the theater include:
  • The most detailed, sophisticated and immersive imagery of any theater in the world, with images exceeding 8,000 by 8,000 pixels—eight times greater than those in a digital movie theater.
  • The use of 45 computers and 84 IBM blade servers to form images using 20 projectors—more than any other theater in the world.
  • A sound system with 16 individually-controlled channels that are more mind-blowing than anything you would hear at the most extravagant rock concert.
  • The ability to use real-time data to show the exact locations of stars and galaxies at any given moment in time.
“One of our main goals was to create an environment that would give visitors a feeling of moving through endless space,” said Mike Lubbers, a senior architectural designer at Wight. “For example, we had to keep all light out of the room to achieve a pitch-black simulation of deep space.”

The Grainger Sky Theater design was Wight’s third project for the Adler. In 2007, Wight designed the renovation of the planetarium’s 3-D Universe Theater in the lower level. “It has been an honor to participate in the transformation of the last two significant theater projects that are setting the foundation for the next generation of Adler visitors,” said Jim Mark, principal-in-charge and vice president at Wight.

“The Adler is a Chicago icon and one of our city’s cultural treasures. We’re proud to have played a role in making it the most advanced planetarium theater in the world,” said Kevin Havens, Wight’s senior vice president and director of design.

Please click here to view a short video of the project.


About the Adler
The Adler Planetarium—America’s First Planetarium—was founded in 1930 by Chicago business leader Max Adler. A recognized leader in public learning, the Adler inspires young people—particularly women and minorities—to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Scientists, historians and educators at the museum inspire the next generation of explorers. Learn more at

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