Walk Into the Weird White Room From '2001: A Space Odyssey' at the Smithsonian

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this week, the penultimate scene from Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece is coming to the U.S. capital.

Mark Avino/Smithsonian Institution
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On April 2, 1968, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's made its . Fifty years later, the stark neoclassical suite from the has been , just four miles from the Uptown. Starting on April 8, film fans will be able to walk in David Bowman's shoes.

The 26 x 33-foot suite, called "The Barmecide Feast," isn’t the original set from the film. Kubrick was , leaving few original artifacts behind and an exact replica nearly impossible to find. But the ornate gold upholstered furniture, illuminated white floors, and renaissance statues in this re-creation are all a close interpretation of what was used in the 1968 movie.

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What’s different is the artwork that lines the walls, paintings by, though they match the same color palette as the ones in the film. There is also a suspicious lack of a large ominous monolith.

Along with the meticulously recreated set is accompanying music, composed by . “We [are]...sharing with our visitors the narrative of the interaction between science fact and science fiction,” says , curator of space history at the National Air and Space Museum, “These worlds have become fundamentally connected.”

Unlike the movie, this recreated set actually made its world premiere last year in Los Angeles. It was conceived and designed by British artist as the centerpiece for his giant pop-up art exhibit , which opened in March 2017 and closed later that summer.

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For the build out, he collaborated with Paul Kember of the architecture firm , who just so happened to be the nephew of Tony and John Graysmark—two draftsmen/set designers on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both helped to design the original room in the late 60s.

“[The build-out was] not so unique, it’s just like any movie or theater set,” Birch wrote to Seniorhelpline, “Plywood walls, drywall, a disco light floor...Of course the challenge was not so much to build it but design it as no blueprints exist. But [KplusK] had inside knowledge which sure helped.”

"Science can learn a lot from art and vice-versa.”

He says the room represents “order, precision, violence, an inner cave, rebirth, transformation, incarceration” and the film “blew his mind” when he first saw it as a kid. “What stuck with me [about the film] was the tension, aesthetics, and minimal information the film gives you, while at the same time overloading you,” says Birch.

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Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum was a natural fit as the next stop for Birch’s sci-fi installation because the museum is also the . In 2015, the museum acquired a large trove of letters, early writings, videotapes, 16mm film, personal items, and early screenplay drafts of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Collins and several of his colleagues went to Clarke’s home in Sri Lanka to collect the materials, who had died in 2008.

“One fascinating aspect... were the work notes he complied as he was writing,” says Collins, “You see that he was tremendously concerned with scientific and technical accuracy. He would have these notes where he scribbled out things like the mechanical features of a potential spacecraft.”

Facsimile examples from the collection, including those early drafts of 2001, will also be on display alongside the suite for visitors to explore. The bedroom is only on display through May 28th, giving Kubrick fans only about seven weeks to experience a piece of cinema history. Admission is free, but .

“Wonderful things happen when we cross disciplines,” says Birch, who's excited about art being displaced at the world famous science and engineering museum. "Science can learn a lot from art and vice-versa."

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