In July 2017 Tirpitz opened its doors: an extraordinary museum on the unruly Danish West Coast. In an invisible building that breaks open the dune landscape from within, visitors can tune in to the region’s heartbeat and discover the local history, with special attention to the Atlantic Wall and amber. In its first year, the museum has welcomed more than 298.000 visitors, three times as many as anticipated and it has won several awards. What’s the secret behind the success?
A good start is half the work
Long before Vardemuseerne, the umbrella of local museums commissioned Tinker Imagineers to design and produce the exhibitions in their new museum, and they had already gone to great lengths. They had visited other European museums for inspiration. They had made a first selection of themes, storylines and objects and they had been studying different learning styles.
A crucial part of their preparations was their in-depth survey of their future target groups, to fully understand who they were making a museum for. In their case that meant interviewing camping guests on the nearby campsites. Asking them what they do in their holidays? What do they look for? What’s important for them? In this way, the museum learnt for instance that a big part of their intended visitors usually stay put on the campsite and rarely visit a museum. These insights inspired the museum’s motto: ‘we are not the visitor’. A slogan that fits seamlessly with our approach at Tinker.
Use the sense of place
During our first visit we realised how life on the Danish West Coast had always been dictated by rhythm of nature. And as we believe that capturing the sense of place in an exhibition enriches the visitor’s experience, we decided to use these rhythms to create a dynamic in the exhibitions based on high and low tide, night and day, hot and cold, the never-ending cycle of seasons and ever-changing weather.
In ‘West Coast Stories’, the room that focuses on 100.000 years of local history, we chose the rhythm of the tides and of night and day. Subtle daylight projections show water and sand on the move. Twice an hour the gallery turns dark, for a 4D boat ride experience through time but based on the course of a day. In Gold of the West coast we use light to create a rhythm that alternates from warm to cold and back, reflecting key aspects in Baltic amber’s history.
We are convinced that using these rhythms boosts the visitor’s experience, even if visitors don’t consciously notice them. The rhythms support their journey in space and time and put them in the right frame of mind. To feel how time has formed the landscape and the people. Or how the tides brought wealth on the one hand, and took lives on the other.
Scenography is key
The scenography in Tirpitz is very present. For us scenography is the connector between the architecture on the one hand and the museography on the other. Not only should its form shelter precious artefacts and stories that need privacy, it also brings calm to the room. In the case of Tirpitz that meant finding meaningful forms that weren’t too literal, but not too abstract either. Especially with the visitor in mind it was important that the forms felt familiar and recognisable, yet clearly stayed away from a theme park feel. We were making a museum after all.
Be short and sweet
Everybody loves stories and they are an essential part of any museum. But often curators write their texts with their colleague curator in mind instead of the average visitor. Apart from that, in this case the average visitor – not used to visit museums, relaxing on holiday - was not going to be very keen on reading a lot anyway. That’s why early in the process we decided to present most stories through a simple audioguide. This allows visitors to engage with the stories with minimal effort. Although the total number of audio stories got slightly out of hand (166 to be precise), we managed to keep it ‘light’ by keeping the audio stories themselves short and crisp, 40 seconds to 1 minute for most. To our great surprise 39% of the visitors listen to 50 stories or more, a result which we would never have reached with conventional text panels.
The mystery ingredient
So, there’s no secret to it really: it took time, money, skills, creativity and hard work, like any project. Having said that, there’s one more ingredient. If there has been any secret to the success it certainly has been the team dynamic. We worked in a small core team, with people from both Tinker and Tirptiz. The instant click on a personal level provided good energy and laughter during meetings, and moreover it created a bond that reinforced creativity, trust and commitment. We personally believe that the fun we had during the project is reflected in the quality of the result. But that’s a judgement we gladly leave to the visitors.
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