When Tagbin, a Gurugram-based design agency was assigned with the task of designing the recently-inaugurated PM museum or Pradhan Mantri Sangrahalaya, the team went through “multiple rounds of meetings” to understand the narrative of the museum, and what it is that they were trying to achieve in terms of engagement with youth and the overall energy of the place.
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It would not be wrong to say that museums today have become niche, if not entirely obsolete. So, the team behind Pradhan Mantri Sangrahalaya — inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 14, 2022 — was tasked with bringing together an amalgamation of history and art, with immersive digital technology, to make it an informative experience for people looking to learn more about the lives of all Prime Ministers India has had thus far.
Tagbin’s CEO and design and technology consultant of the Sangrahalaya, Saurav Bhaik, recently interacted with indianexpress.com, and talked more about the scope of technology, how museums can be still become crowd-pullers, the challenges faced while designing the Sangrahalaya and what the entire coming-together process looked like.
What went into conceptualising the state-of-the-art display at the museum?
The first action we took was to study and understand the visitor profile. We figured out the right medium through which we can disseminate the information in the most interesting manner. We discovered that people have a very little attention span. They refrain from reading larger texts. The visitor, which is mostly the youth, gets interested in consuming content through playful methods that are interactive and engaging.
Multiple rounds of workshops and meetings were held with different stakeholders. We started with content bucketing which went to various archives for sourcing and collecting the relevant content. We then worked on the visitor flow and planned the circulation of the visitor. Once that was in place, we worked on zone planning and designed the spaces.
Since the visitor on the journey is walking while absorbing information, we made sure they are able to get rest from the content at regular intervals. To break the display monotony, we brought in the element of surprise where each gallery was designed differently to give a unique look of its own. Once the space was designed, we worked on the scripts for the content production, layout drawings for the fabrication part and framed specifications for the technology fitments.
Were you given briefs and ideas? What was the initial brainstorming like?
The narrative of the museum went through multiple rounds of discussions to decide upon various points like that what is it that we’re trying to showcase, how the galleries of prime ministers were to be structured, what should be the space allocated for each PM, the key events involved in their tenure and the overall message that we wanted to convey.
We also thought through how we could make the galleries consistent, without making them controversial. This was done by striking the right balance in the content and designing the spaces based on the achievements and the contributions each PM made to the nation and not merely by their tenures in office. All of these were defined in the initial brief.
What is special about this museum that is not seen in any other?
The museum is visitor-focused, engaging and interactive. Here, the visitors become a part of the museum and participate. The museum displays authentic content and no recreation has been done. It is a perfect amalgamation of history, rich content, art and technology, bringing a complete package of a never-seen-before visitor experience.
It goes beyond borders, welcoming everyone. We have developed the most advanced audio guide system that assists as a tour guide. It is currently in two languages and will expand to 21 Indian languages and 6 international languages. Visitors receive a headset and earphones in the kit. As they walk, this multilingual audio guide — auto-syncs with exhibits for an immersive audiovisual experience — assists in navigating through the museum. Visitors can even customise their tours according to their time and convenience.
Museums are fast becoming a niche, and as such, what role can technology play, and what do you predict about museums’ future in India?
Interactive technologies can make these places interesting. By making them digital, it opens up the whole new scenario of updating the content from time to time. Generally, if the museum is designed in the traditional way with static displays and graphical content, it is likely to go outdated. In digital museums, we can keep it evolving.
Also, with new-aged technologies, virtual museums are making space in the museum industry. Physical museums have a location-based disadvantage. They are developed at a particular location and not everybody is able to travel to these places. Virtual museum tours enable tourists to visit and explore the heritage, art, and culture from any place. We also believe gamification like treasure hunts, quizzes and involvement of user engagement plays a big role in creating interest.
What were some of the biggest challenges you and your team faced while working for the Sangrahalaya?
One of the challenges was the space break-up among different prime ministers. Since we were not involved at the stage of building planning, we were given a pre-designed building. We had to retrofit the narrative and content in a chronological manner.
Also, some of the tech installations were happening for the first time. For example, the 3-feet high levitating national emblem that one can see right at the reception took several trials before we got it right. It works in the magnetic field and the entire weight of the installation had to be focused in the centre. After a couple of remakes, we used 3D printing of the structure with a stone finish to complete the look.
Similarly, synchronizing 1,200 lights to form a waving flag and make them robust was another challenge.
Also, looking at the scale of the project, we deployed a unique strategy to get specialised vendors onboard for each work. This increased the pressure of coordination between them as we were the project management consultancy for the project.
The conventional practice is to deploy a single vendor and the hired company is responsible for the work and deliverables. We believe a single company cannot have the diversified skill set required to make a world-class museum. In the end, the result came out to be the best.
How did Tagbin come on board for the project?
The building was already planned and the work had commenced. We got the design, technology and project management through a tendering process. We collaborated with a UK-based firm, The Hub. On the overall basis of financial and technical score, we were declared successful bidders and awarded the project.
When did you begin work, and what aspects were particularly important to you?
We got the project in March 2020. The first six months were non-operational due to the Covid wave. Some aspects like the overall vision and mission of the museum, the space planning and the initial direction of how each gallery was to be approached were most important, as that set the foundation and fundamental principle on which we built the museum.
How can technological advancements like levitation, robotics, holograms, virtual reality, augmented reality, multi-touch, multimedia, interactive kiosk, etc., give visitors an immersive experience?
We have used technologies like levitation and kinetic to create art installations, which give a ‘wow’ feeling to the visitor at the entrance as they begin. Interactive display technologies like the multi-touch, interactive kiosks, gesture enabled displays are installed to disseminate information in the most interesting ways.
The new-age technologies like AR, VR and robotics are used to enhance human interactivity and engagement. Through these tech-enabled experiential exhibits, visitors become a part of the museum and learn by doing. This is a great medium to educate the youth, where they are able to absorb and retain the content in interesting ways.
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