Immersed in history: Inavation Awards' winner NARC

When it comes to delivering exciting history, the trick is to work smarter, not harder. Reece Webb speaks with Inavation Awards winner, Edigma, on the delivery of an outstanding project.

The Núcleo Arqueológico da Rua dos Correeiros (NARC) is a 450 sq m exhibition, located in a vault underneath Lisbon. This unique attraction gives visitors a peak into the city’s different layers of time, providing an overview of the iconic moments and eras that placed their stamp on Lisbon, combined with a chronological preview of the items in the exhibition.

This preview offers a look through millennia of history, highlighting wall remnants of a Phoenician house from the Iron Age to a baking oven that remained in use up to the 19th century.

Enter Edigma, AV integrator and partner to venue owner MillenniumBCP; Edigma has worked with the client since 2016 and was brought on board to tackle the museum installation in an innovative way. Edigma worked closely with exhibition designer Atelier Brückner to bring the exhibition to life.

Joana Proserpio, creative director, Edgima, says: “The briefing for this project was to empower the archaeological space with a new concept of visit sustained in a differentiating, expositive narrative using technological solutions. This brief was focused on disruptive, engaging and immersive experiences [to tell the story] of 2,500 years of the history of Lisbon. They had several ideas that we had to deliver with local constraints and different, specialised teams.”

The Edigma team not only had to deliver a system that delivered a unique experience but had to work around a millennia-old historic venue that required extensive care and attention to avoid damaging or negatively impacting the site. The Edigma team also had to provide a smart building system that delivered state-of-the-art efficiency that snagged the 2023 Inavation Award for best Smart Buildings Project.

Proserpio explains: “This museum space is an underground archaeological site, so the entire installation was carried out in unusual conditions. Decades ago, a suspended metal walkway was built to allow visitors to walk through the ruins without stepping on them. For this renovation, scaffolding was installed for our team to access the peripheral areas where the museum walls, technological elements and lighting were installed. All works were always closely followed by a team of archaeologists.

“These structures were assembled above the ruins and as they are installed at different heights, different platforms were created. Some areas were very tight, making all the work difficult. In addition, this is a very humid space as it is on a water table. At certain times of the year the waters rise, which was also a challenge to manage. At the time of the Phoenicians this place was a beach!”

Entering the ground floor of the building, visitors are greeted by the prologue media screen videowall created by six Samsung 46-in UH46N-E displays supported by Vogel’s PFW 6880 and Chief LSMVU mounts. This videowall offers an introduction to visitors to the different layers of history within the exhibition. Tour guides have access to an iPad controller to allow them to shuffle between different layers of infographics and textual content that appears on a showcase screen, allowing interaction with the artefacts on display.

Descending into the past via a footbridge, visitors find themselves immersed in the sights and sounds of the iron age, looking down upon iron age ruins brought to life through projection. This space sees projected people walking across the space, and a fireplace brought to life with projection upon the ruins of the original fireplace to truly bring the area back into its heyday without damaging the ruins.

Projected waves lap against the surface of the ruins, indicating the location of the former shoreline now lost to time. This effect was achieved by using two Optoma ZU720TST projectors supported by four Ecler Trail103 speakers.

Moving through the exhibition, visitors find themselves face-toface with the Roman Industry of Fish Preservation media unit, consisting of an animation on a Samsung 46-in videowall which explains the process and production of garum sauce, which was enjoyed during the Roman era at the site.

The animation is activated by the guide’s controller app which allows the guide to play, rewind, pause or replay the animation to explain specific points to guests.

Proserpio says: “Before the guides reach this area, the animation would be inactive. Once the guide activates the media screens the animation suddenly appears and starts developing on the screen.”

This area is also home to the Roman fish factory, where the guide can activate a soundscape which simulates coastal sounds to immerse visitors in the world of the port which once stood on the site.

“The soundscape in general is an acoustic ambient sound”, says Proserpio. “It starts with the sounds of the sea overlapping with a crowded market ambience with voices of merchants representing the intense economic life of Olisipo [now Lisbon] as a maritime city. The sound of goods loading and unloading from the boats plays with the voices of fishermen in conversation. Waves crashing and seagull sounds begin to appear towards the end of the recording and the sound recording repeats until the experience ends.”

To create this effect, both a Samsung 46-in videowall, as well as a NEC PX803UL projector and a Ecler sound system are used. Coming towards the end of the exhibition, visitors reach an epilogue space, projecting onto the wall above the archaeological ruins from the Roman and post-earthquake period in Lisbon. For this final centrepiece, Edigma supplied another NEC projector suspended with a mounting system connected to the video signal receiver. The suspended mount is connected to the power line and has relay contracts which provides a connection to be controlled via the media control system.

Smart thinking

While this project stands out as a shining example of AV excellence, the real crown jewel at the NARC comes in the form of its smart building features that takes energy efficiency to the next level. In a space that requires the utmost attention to respecting the archaeological exhibits and presenting them in a way that is both atmospheric and efficient, Edigma delivered a smart lighting control system which interfaces with a smart energy metering system to accurately track energy usage, keeping energy usage costs low and minimising the site’s carbon footprint.

The lighting system is based on a DMX lighting control system connected to a Helvar router, using an Analog Way Picturall Pro media server for video/media control.

The lighting designer team created specific scenario lights for each station, with the DMX router connected to the control processor via IP and connected to the lights via a DMX512 bus. Any input from the museum guide on the iPad will turn the lights on, off or dim them in accordance with the specific scenario requirements.

Each control system is aggregated into a RTI XP8v control processor for control and automation, with all scenarios triggered from a customised dashboard integrated into two iPads controlled by the museum guides.

Proserpio explains: “Many processes are automated from one single click on the iPad. At each station of the visit, when the guide presses the trigger button on the iPad, the lighting, sound and videos for this particular station change accordingly.

“At the end of the day, the guide only needs to press one button to turn off all the lights, media players, screens and media projectors.”

The RTI XP8v control processor features a two-way Zigbee communication port, however due to the underground conditions and thick walls of the museum, Edigma opted for a Z-Wave wired solution for improved reliability.

For Edigma, the site’s unique geology posed the biggest challenge for the installation, carefully navigating the space to avoid damage to the site and taking the utmost care to install AV equipment with the utmost respect.

Proserpio explains: “It was important to have a team that was very involved in the project, with lots of experience with these kinds of projects. It was also important to have a very cooperative client and to always be in tune with the architects responsible for the design of the space.

“We are proud to have implemented a project of this nature with this complexity and which we believe brings something new to visitors, and the historic downtown of Lisbon. We believe that it will be able to inspire new bold approaches to the musealisation of spaces with these characteristics, motivating people to get to know the heritage and dynamics of this city.”

As part of its long-standing relationship with the client, Edigma also has a support and maintenance contract for the installation, with plans to add an autonomous visitor experience that allows guests to complete the visit by themselves. For added ease of maintenance, all existing devices can be remotely accessed by the Edigma support team for maintenance or monitoring purposes.

Reflecting on the project, António Monteiro, president, Milennium BCP Foundation, closes: “The ruins and the remains did not undergo any alteration, only conservation and maintenance actions were made. What was profoundly altered was the museography.

“The new set design is based on better communication with the public. With the guided tour, visitors discover what the archaeological excavations have left in sight and some of the 120 objects at the site where they were found. Using an iPad, the guide controls the staged configuration, with layers of light and sound projections, explaining the original meaning of the findings and their use in everyday life. These works are part of our mission to preserve, manage and disseminate Portuguese cultural heritage. We are happy to share the results of these works with all those who wish to visit us.”

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