Creating magic indoors

The Wander The Workhouse experience spans the indoor and outdoor spaces at Southwell. Visitors start by choosing a character to follow, then can explore indoors or outdoors from the perspective of that character. In this post, we focus on the challenge inside The Workhouse to bring rooms alive in ways that are appropriate to the building’s history, while dealing with the practicalities of powering and networking any technology that we use to do so.

To fit neatly within the aesthetic of the building we are keen to move away from digital displays and headphones: instead, the stark walls of the indoor spaces in The Workhouse provide a fantastic blank canvas for more organic-feeling projection, while a lack of furniture, carpets and curtains means that sound will carry out of rooms, echoing along corridors and up and down stairways. At a building level, our aim is that – when visitors are triggering these moments of image and sound – The Workhouse will feel inhabited. Each moment will be a spectacle, drawing visitors through the building and creating social experiences.

In part thanks to an enlightening prototyping session led by Raphael Velt, we have stepped back from our original plan to encourage visitors through the interactive rooms in a particular order. Instead, the experience in each room will now stand on its own, allowing visitors to wander through (or be attracted by) rooms in any order.

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In each of the five rooms chosen for treatment, visitors will use a personal character card to bring the room alive. Character cards are NFC-enabled, allowing visitors simply to tap their card to another NFC-enabled surface in the room to instruct nearby AV equipment to playback media appropriate to the visitor’s character. The trick here will be to hide each chain of equipment – from NFC reader to projector or speakers – within objects that visitors might expect to find in the room, retaining a little bit of magic.

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A lack of mains power sockets (not a traditional feature of The Workhouse) means that our choice of rooms is limited, but we have picked five that each have a distinct but different character, and that help to emphasise how each character that visitors may adopt would have been privy to different aspects of Workhouse life. Finally, we’re using walls, windows and doors to our advantage. Workhouse inhabitants would have been strictly limited to certain parts of the building depending on their age, gender and ability: they would have seen and heard other inhabitants through windows and locked doors. The room experiences will also encourage visitors to peek through windows and listen at keyholes, hopefully bringing back a sense of the segregation that their character may have felt during their time at The Workhouse.

Some open questions remain: we are keeping each piece of room media brief to try to prevent bottlenecks of visitors trying to trigger their own pieces of interactivity, but we will not know exactly how visitors negotiate the rooms until the experience is fully launched. If a room has already been “triggered”, will visitors wait, try to interrupt, or wander off elsewhere? Will visitors talk around a piece of media, or ignore one another? Will visitors notice that each interaction is linked to their chosen character? In less than a month we’ll find out!

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