A new museum dedicated to language, Planet Word, opened this week in the historic former Franklin School building at 13th and K streets in Northwest D.C.
Admission is free, although under Phase Two of the District’s pandemic reopening requirements, capacity is limited, and a donation is recommended.
Timed entry pass reservations are available online.
Planet Word calls itself the world’s first voice-activated museum, with 10 immersive learning galleries, which use technology in ways the museum says reimagine the modern museum experience.
Voice-activated exhibits include “Where Do Words Come From,” a 22-foot-tall talking word wall, an acoustically-sealed room where visitors use a teleprompter to deliver their own versions of historic speeches and a karaoke lounge.
In other galleries, visitors can create an advertising campaign, and converse with native speakers of both widely spoken and endangered languages.
In the courtyard entrance, there is a sculpture called the Speaking Willow, which resembles a weeping willow tree and plays voice recordings from hundreds of different languages.
“Democracy depends on literate citizens. I hope that Planet World can provide a forum for civil discourse and a place where our community, in all of its vibrant diversity, can gather to share the word that bridge the differences and forge solutions,” said Planet Word founder and CEO Ann Friedman. “I cannot imagine a more fitting time for a museum of language to open in our nation’s capital.”
Plans for the new museum were announced in 2018.
Friedman herself funded the $35 million renovation of the old Franklin School building. An additional $20 million, from donors — including AT&T, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Microsoft, as well as private donors — will finance exhibits and operating costs.
Renovations preserved the buildings historic interior and exterior features.
Franklin School, a National Historic Landmark building, was the site of one of D.C.’s first public schools. Its roof was also the site of the world’s first wireless voice transmission, the photophone, by Alexander Graham Bell in 1880.