Lads Of Liberty: Edwin Schlossberg, Partner, ESI Design

Posted May 13, 2020

In May 2019 (almost exactly a year ago!), the new Statue of Liberty Museum opened on Liberty Island with experience and exhibits by ESI Design. The new museum is part of a $100 million Liberty Island-wide beautification effort that is funded by our clients, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

To celebrate we’re sharing the stories of some of the talented people who have worked for over five years to bring this world-class museum from concept to completion.

In this edition, you’ll hear from Edwin Schlossberg, partner and founder of ESI Design about his leadership role in the creation and design of the museum’s ground-breaking exhibits.


Name: Edwin Schlossberg
Job Title: Partner
Years of Experience: 42
Age: 74
Nationality: American
Languages Spoken: English and French
Education: PhD in Science and Literature from Columbia University

When was your first visit to the Statue of Liberty? Describe your experience on Liberty Island?

Edwin Schlossberg, Partner: I visited the Statue for the first time when I was only 10 years old with my third grade class. Since then, I have visited probably over a hundred times.

What was your role on the project? What did that mean for you day-to-day?

ES: I was the design lead for the Statue of Liberty Museum’s experience and exhibit design. It was my overall responsibility to imagine how to honor and celebrate America’s symbol of Liberty. What emotions did we want the museum to evoke? What did we want visitors to take from the experience? How would we create the detail of the museum’s exhibits? 

I ran exhibit content and scripting meetings with the History Advisory Committee of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (SOLEIF). I led design meetings with the project partners such as architects FXCollaborative, general contractor Phelps Construction Group, and the owners representative SBI Consultants. 

I helped with fundraising efforts, and worked very closely with Stephen Briganti, President and Chief Executive Officer of Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. and their board of directors to raise the $100 million needed to build and complete the new museum. I also worked on the design and oversaw part of the development of the app that was created for the museum’s opening. 

Closer to the museum’s opening I gave hard hat tours to the press, did briefings and interviews to share the story of what we were creating to the public.

Edwin, left, with Stephen Briganti, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

What about this work meaningful to you?

ES: Being chosen to design the Statue of Liberty Museum was an incredible honor and challenge. It marks the second project I worked on with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc, after designing the National Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island and a wonderful extension of our partnership.

Do you think having a museum dedicated to Statue of Liberty is important?

ES: Yes, I do. The notion of “liberty” is a contested idea between good and evil, between free and not free. The Statue of Liberty is a critical symbol for good to prevail and the museum provides a safe space for this conversation to be had by 4.3 million visitors annually.

While the Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognizable icons in the world, few people ever get to climb to its crown or get to see Lady Liberty’s face up close. Our goal for the design of the museum experience is to immerse visitors in not just the grandeur and sweeping history of the Statue, but also in the very idea of liberty itself so that they leave with a deeper understanding of what it means to them and the active role required to uphold it.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the design industry since you’ve started?

ES: My design career was launched when I was asked to design one of the world’s first participatory museums, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and since then I have had the pleasure and honor of designing many more impactful and immersive experiences. It’s been my lifelong passion to bring audiences together to explore, learn, communicate and collaborate. When I first started out, I designed on my own, but now I collaborate with a team of 70 people at the ESI Design studio, and we also have the support of NBBJ, a global architecture firm with 800 more talented designers.

Describe something that you really love about the museum’s exhibits.

ES: There are so many parts of the museum experience at the Statue of Liberty Museum that I love, but my favorites are the two exhibits which bookend the museum – the Immersive Theater at the beginning and Becoming Liberty at the conclusion. 

Edwin in the Museum’s Immersive Theater.

The Immersive Theater is as much an introduction to the Statue of Liberty as it is to her museum, and we tell the story of the Statue through a dramatic multimedia event told in a series of three theaters. One of my favorite parts is where we take visitors inside the towering Statue and see the spiral staircase that only a small fraction of visitors ever get to see in person. 

At the emotional culmination of the museum, visitors are invited to join the conversation about liberty by sharing their own perspective on what liberty looks like. Here, visitors reflect upon what they experienced in the museum, with an interactive experience called Becoming Liberty. The 20 kiosks prompt visitors to share their own portrait and a set of images that express their perspectives on the meaning of liberty. Their choices join with those made by other visitors in a sweeping, panoramic mosaic at the entry to the gallery — after learning about liberty throughout the museum, visitors themselves are invited to become part of liberty’s worldwide story.  

I hope you get the chance to visit and experience the Statue of Liberty Museum yourself sometime soon.

If you have any questions for Edwin, sound off in the comments!

To read the rest of the interview series, click here.

ESI Design

NBBJ’s New York experience design studio, ESI Design, transforms places into experiences that seamlessly weave the physical and digital worlds together.

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