Dignity displayed: National War Cemetery Loenen

The National War Cemetery Loenen has embraced powerful visuals and sound to pay respects to the Netherlands’ war dead. Reece Webb discovers how a state-of-the-art AV installation can bring visitors face-to-face with a nation’s past in an innovative and sombre way.

The National War Cemetery Loenen pays respects to the Dutchmen, women and children lost in the horrors of World War Two and the Nazi occupation, all the way up to the Netherland’s conflicts in the post-war period and beyond. As the wartime generation slowly fades away, the challenge of presenting the memories and experiences of the fallen falls to a new generation, and with new minds comes new ways to interpret important educational matters.

The Cemetery called on exhibition designer Tinker imagineers and integrator PhantaVision to walk a fine line between a creative vision and tasteful regard, with the objective of honouring the deceased respectfully.

Marijn Harteveld, project manager at Tinker imagineers, explained: “The war cemetery foundation wanted to renew the National War Cemetery Loenen and issued a call for tenders. The foundation has registered 180,000 people in the Netherlands as war victims. Men, women and children who lost their lives during the Second World War or during violent conflicts afterwards - like in the former Dutch East Indies and during recent peace missions. They all have a story, however short and simple.

“The foundation wants to keep the memory of these people alive, by collecting and sharing their stories and also by maintaining the 50,000 Dutch war graves all over the world. Tinker imagineers didn't have to think long to take part in the tender. At Tinker we were immediately moved by the stories of people who are buried in the war cemetery. We found it inspiring to think about a memorial site that presents these stories in a meaningful way to the visitor.”

The brief called for a technology driven space, with the war cemetery foundation bringing on KAAN architects to design a multifunctional memorial and educational centre at the cemetery, using AV technology to bring visitors face to face with history and to bring the memories of war victims back to life.

Harteveld explained: “The brief for the exhibition design was as follows: Create a space where stories about Dutch war victims are central and where visitors learn about the efforts of Dutch people during the Second World War and current international peace missions. Tinker then thought about how to present this: How do you tell the stories of the people buried on a field of honour in such a way that they make a lasting impression on the visitors? How do visitors start thinking about these stories and also think about themselves? About peace and freedom, and their own role in it?

Stepping into the main centre, visitors are ushered into an open space with numerous exhibits from previous conflicts and the stories of survivors and victims. Upon entering, an introduction film is projected overhead, created by using panoramic video mapping that immerses audiences in the tones of reflection and respect ahead. Bart Verhoef, project manager (technology) at Phanta Vision, explained: “For the introduction film, we chose a Vivitek DU 6693 because it is a projector with a good light output and also has a WUXGA resolution. The high resolution in combination with the light output creates a nice clear image on which the film can be seen well. We combined this with a Brightsign player because of its reliability.

“We used a Crestron processor as the central controller to operate the entire system. We extended this with an iPad, so that the host can walk around with an iPad and all the exhibits start at the desired moment.”

The space has an interactive table at its centre, allowing guests to navigate content through a Iiyama touchscreen table combined with an LG LED 49-in display. Verhoef explained: “For the exhibit with the touchscreen table, we chose the Iiyama ProLite, because of its good touch experience. With a metal casing and a 60950-1 ball drop proof, scratch resistant and fully glass front, this screen is perfectly suited for intensive use in the museum. To support the audio, we mounted two JBL speakers under the table. The PC was selected in consultation with the interactive designer.”

Keeping a focus on the theme of reflection was achieved in both a metaphorical and a literal sense. Tinker and Phanta Vision worked together to present the stories of survivors through ‘mirror’ displays as Verhoef said: “These portraits can be found in the first part of the exhibition, which focuses on stories by Dutch war victims and the deployment of the Dutch during international peace missions. Six mirrors display the relatives of victims, who look you in the eye and talk about their loved one buried at Loenen National War Cemetery.”

"Six mirrors display the relatives of victims, who look you in the eye and talk about their loved one buried at Loenen National War Cemetery." - Bart Verhoef, Phanta Vision  

To create the sobering effect, six two-way mirrors were installed with six LG 49-in High pro screens and an extra highlight output to make the portraits clearly visible through the mirrors. Brightsign HD224s were used as players, which are triggered by audio horns. Twelve built-in speakers provide audio, powered by six Extron MPA 152amplifiers.

Harteveld added: “We placed six volumes against the walls, three on each wall facing each other. On each volume, we placed an HD monitor vertically with a translucent mirror on top. And when a visitor stood in front of the mirror, a video was immediately triggered on the monitor behind it, so that the visitor not only saw themselves, but also the person who appeared on the monitor. The effect worked even better than we had expected.”

Verhoef believes that the mirrors stand out as one of the most striking aspects of the exhibition. He clarified: “The mirror portraits were the hardest part [of the exhibition]. For example, you could see the fixing material through the reflection and transparency of all the mirrors and glass plates, so you had to look for other ways of fixing it.

“Up to six stories can be played simultaneously in this same space. This created a cacophony of sound, so that no story could be followed. We tried to solve the problem with directional speakers, but that didn't work either. In the end, we opted for headphones.”

Tinker and Phanta Vision delivered the project to a high standard within a short timeframe, with Phanta Vision continuing to supply maintenance and technical support on site for the foreseeable future.

Harteveld closed: “It was a very pleasant collaboration with the foundation as the client. There was also a good synergy between all the different parties and in a relatively short period of time a lot of beautiful things came into being.

“The stories show how sorrow lingers after so many years and often continues to play out across multiple generations. Visitors are constantly aware of their own reflection while looking at this piece.”

Kit list

Video

Apple iPad

Brightsign HD224

players

LG High pro monitor 49-in

Iiyama TF2415MC 24-in Captive touch Glass front,TF6538UHSC65-in 4K Captive touch Glass front

Vivitek DU 6693 projectors

Audio

Extron MPA 152 amplifiers

JBL Control 24 loudspeakers

Control

Crestron

MPC3-201-B control processor 

Photo credit

Photo 1 & 2: © Rob Gieling

Photo 3: © Mike Bink