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Latvian firm Design Studio H2E lead the experiential design and production of 2019 SEGD Global Design Awards Best of Show and Honor Award-winning project "Aluksne Banitis Station," a multimedia exhibition dedicated to a unique narrow-gauge railway line in Europe, still operational today.
Honor Award 2019
Best of Show Award 2019
This multimedia exhibition is dedicated to a unique narrow-gauge railway line in Europe that is not only a place for the preservation of collective memory but is still operational today. The goal of the exhibition design was to create a virtual journey within a stationary space by means of a story about the history of the railway and its technical aspects, which would highlight the importance of local industrial heritage in the context of broader transport history.
The exhibition is in the Northern Latvian town of Aluksne, which is the terminus of a 33-km-long narrow-gauge railway line. In Latvian, the little train that rolls along the aforementioned railway line is affectionately known by the diminutive moniker, “Banitis.”
When it came to the exhibition design, the challenge was to create the impression of movement in a static space, in order to fulfill the idea of a virtual journey and to make the perception of content an engaging experience. An appropriate design solution was sought with which to tell the local story in an intriguing manner so that it reflected connections with railway history in a broader context.
The planned impression of movement was achieved in practice through a combination of spatial layout, the use of multimedia and the dynamic composition of sound and lighting. Today, local residents have a treasure trove of stories about its history and operation that were integrated into the overall message of the exhibition, highlighting the exhibition’s local, European and technical dimension.
Emphasizing experiential design, visitors can get a comprehensive spatial and visual experience through sight, hearing and smell. The exhibition’s design generates associations with traveling in a moving railcar. It contains 10 improvised passenger benches named after 10 stops along the railway line. Monitors are integrated into the railcar windows on which passengers can observe the slowly moving surrounding landscape.
Video footage is augmented by local residents’ stories about the Banitis’ operation during various eras, conjuring up an all-encompassing pictorial narrative of important historical and local events. The stories are based on personal memories of the railway line and depict technical details of trains and rail transport. A special experience for visitors is provided by 3D virtual reality that allows them to see the world through the train driver’s eyes and to acquire knowledge about the most important technical features of the engine that propel the train into motion.
The exhibition is located in one of the station’s ancillary buildings—the former baggage shed, which used to serve as a storage facility. Referencing the building’s original function, baggage boxes are used to position exhibits, which now store information instead of freight and convey this to visitors. The contents of the baggage boxes vary—some have digital information carriers integrated into them, whereas others contain authentic exhibits related to the technical provisioning of the railway.
In order to enhance the impression of the presence of history in the minds of visitors, historical materials were studied during the graphic identity development stage, along with typefaces, tickets, trademarks and other station documents and these were reinterpreted in new graphic language. The design team chose to emphasize a graphic black and white line. The light blue tone used in the graphic works was adapted from historical train timetables; its lightness is synonymous with the freedom that accompanied the advent of railway transport. The visual communication utilizes black and white photographs and graphic images, retaining the landscape visible on the monitors as the only color accent. Additionally, the exhibition is in four languages, which made it a challenge to integrate these languages into the overall graphic design solution.
In order to preserve the impression of the baggage boxes to as great an extent as possible, and to make the acquisition of information interactive, exhibits can only be viewed by peering into a box through a round hole similar to a porthole. However, the most pressing concern was to achieve a balance between the use of digital and analog communication media, in order to make it easier for visitors to perceive the overall message.
The implementation of this project gives contemporary relevance to stories of local railway history, thus enriching the pages of European railway history. In the first few months after it was opened to the public, the exhibition has significantly increased tourism in the region, facilitated landscaping of the area in and around the station, and increased public interest in industrial heritage: The exhibition is being extensively visited by schools, has engaged the local community, and has stimulated interest and discussion in technical professions.
"This project has everything: Clever use of technology, combined with simple interactive components. Well done!"
"My grandfather was a retired railroad engineer so I grew up up with a lot of delightful railroad images and tales. This exhibit captures the charm of the railroad with beautifully designed structures that create, as the entry states, 'a virtual journey through time and space, experienced through the interaction of multimedia graphics and authentic objects.'"
"The captivating story of a single railway line that has had a huge impact on a local population is captured elegantly and beautifully in this small museum, which, despite its size, utilizes an incredible variety of mediums and forms to tell a beautiful story. This is a railway museum that captures the essence of why mechanized transportation has yielded powerful human stories since the dawn of the Industrial Age: The train becomes a character that has interacted with so many other, human characters through the years and the museum beautifully captures said interaction between man and machine."
"This project has it all: a strong sense of place and character, a successful deployment of a broad range of interpretive strategies (large motor skills, analog, digital, media, graphics) and an overarching visual coherence that pulls it all together. This is a great example of a variety of design disciplines being deployed and integrated in the creation of a full-bodied, compelling visitor experience."
Design Firms: Design studio H2E
Client: Aluksne District Council
Project Area: 1,615 sq ft
Open Date: September 2018
Project Budget: $214,091
Design Team: Inguna Elere, Holgers Elers (principals in charge); Antra Cilinska (director/producer); Martins Vitols (designer); Laura Lorence (graphic designer); Dagnija Balode (project manager)
Consultants: Think Tank “Creative Museum” (content concept), Toms Altbergs (exhibition content assistance), Lauris Gundars (content editor), Juris Podnieks Studio (video production, animation, digital display), Arhitektes Ināras Caunītes birojs (architect)
Fabricators: REVERIE Trading group (digital displays & technology), Gluk Media (3D interactions), AD Production (exhibition elements), Magnum NT (printing)
Photo Credits: Ansis Starks, Design Studio H2E (photography); Design Studio H2E, Antra Cilinska (videography)