Sarner’s visitor centre project on the Maltese island of Gozo had some unusual challenges, reports Ian McMurray.
Delivering compelling, captivating and informative visitor experiences can be difficult at the best of times – but add to the mix a remote location, a project where you’re working as part of a civil contractor’s team, a listed building being significantly adapted to create a visitor centre and an adjacent archaeological dig that causes frequent disruption, and you have some significant challenges on your hands.
That was the situation facing Sarner when the company was commissioned by the Ministry for Gozo – a small Mediterranean island some 5km from Malta – to help create a unique visitor experience telling the 2,000-year history of the island. The location chosen was the disused reservoirs within the walled Cittadella, and Sarner’s brief was to create nine zones, each of which would be equipped with interactive touchscreens and multi-language translation iPads to help tell the story.
Reliability, ease of use
“When we design AV systems for permanent installations, two of our top priorities are reliability and ease of use,” notes Sarner’s managing director, Ross Magri. “This was the case for Cittadella, and we go to great lengths to make sure that, wherever possible, we use AV equipment that we have previously installed in other projects and are confident of its reliability. Every project we work on is unique, which makes a templating approach impossible: sticking with equipment with which we’re very familiar is how we ensure we can deliver consistent, successful outcomes.”
According to Magri, the most complex part of the project was providing 360º projection within eight arches – the culmination of the visitor experience, weaving together many of the themes from the previous zones. For this, the company deployed 16 Panasonic projectors, with the combination of the reservoirs’ cathedral-like space and their listed status providing particular challenges in hanging and cabling the units. The surround projection is designed to make visitors feel that they are immersed by water, that they are outside in the green landscape of Gozo and then that they are surrounded by the high walls of the Cittadella, and threatened by the guns of the Turkish corsairs to the side and behind them.
“We have delivered more complex and larger-scale projects than Cittadella,” he continues, “but this project was unique because of its proximity to an active archaeological excavation. Discoveries of Roman and other remains were being made on a frequent basis, delaying the project and making it impossible for anyone to provide with any certainty a programme of works that we could adhere to. Although we have had a lot of experience working within historical sites and listed buildings, our experience where there was a high level of excavation was limited, and we did not fully appreciate the implication in limiting access and delays to the works each and every time that a discovery was made.”
For show control, Sarner chose Wings Engine media servers from AV Stumpfl: these are timeline-based, and changes can be made quickly without the need to write or change code. The AMX touch control user interface was chosen for its user-friendliness; it allows for technical control of the installation via password-protected access.
The experience also benefits from Sarner’s provision of two 5 x 3 videowalls, using Philips screens, on either side of the tunnel that leads to the immersive show, and five 42in touchscreens that are used as information points.
The show is fully automated: in the morning, the operator switches the system on from the touchscreen. This powers the equipment sequentially and runs a self-test, while at the same time playing test media so the operator can ensure that everything is working.
The walk-through experience is eight-and-a-half minutes, and allows up to 30 visitors through each zone at a time with a controlled timed flow system.
As well as attracting widespread praise from client and visitors alike, the project also won Sarner the Best Visitor Attraction Project award at the InstallAwards 2017.