Smritivan Earthquake Museum, India

Design Factory India provides insight into how you can conceptualise and create an Inavate APAC Award-winning visitor attraction.

The Smritivan Earthquake Museum was created as a remembrance for those impacted by the 2001 Bhuj earthquake which occurred in the Kutch District of Gujarat, India. Spread across 470 acres, it is located atop the Bhujiyo hill on the outskirts of Bhuj making it one of the largest and most unique memorials and museums in India.

The Smritivan Earthquake Museum was envisioned as a space not just for remembrance of the past but a way to give back to the people and tell their story of resilience and rejuvenation.

Gujrat State Disaster Management Authority, which was established as part of the redevelopment activities in the region, appointed Design Factory India as the design consultant for the project and integration was handled by different contractors, Modern Stage Services and Attah Info Media, through a comprehensive bidding process.

Design Factory India’s task was to curate the museum experience for visitors and lead them through a journey to understand the story of the region and the 2001 earthquake.

Siddharth Bathla, director and co-founder of Design Factory India, begins the conversation and details how the initial discovery sessions progressed: “We started with research to understand the context and what came across very strongly were themes of constant change and resilience. We talked to the people who live and reside in the area, and we met with experts from archaeology, seismology, and geology to understand that this is not the first event of this nature and that it is bound to happen again because of the underlying science and our understanding of it. We realised that these features of the geography are ingrained in the culture that has flourished here.”

Bathla continues: “Over the years and decades, people of the region have developed a spirit of resilience. They have created traditional knowledge systems and practices that they still follow and honour to this day and these have helped them address the challenges they face and always come back stronger. We used this as the overarching idea for the Smritivan Earthquake Museum.”

The research into the context of the earthquake helped Design Factory India tap into the wider narrative surround the natural occurrence. Bathla adds: “What was evident was that there is always going to be change in our surroundings and environment. These changes are part of life. And this allowed us to take the story from being just about the natural disaster, which it was, and start to also explore it as a natural occurrence. It is a change that the people must adapt to. And this theme is something that is universal, and it allowed us to put the story of the earthquake within the broader narrative of how humans are constantly adapting, changing, and evolving.”

The museum narrative and conceptual storyline follows on from the overarching idea. The Smritivan Earthquake Museum itself is broken into eight distinct spaces: Rebirth, Rediscover, Restore, Rebuild, Rethink, Relive, and Renew and an additional gallery as well.

The first stage explores the constantly changing nature of the planet and how humans have adapted to it.

The second stage starts to shed light on natural occurrences and the reasons behind them presenting examples for the last 200 years of human history while also shedding light on how humans have adapted to these occurrences.

The third stage of the journey brings the focus to the story of the 2001 earthquake and seeks to convey the trauma and immediate chaos of the event as well as transitioning the story to the efforts for rehabilitation in the aftermath.

The fourth and fifth block of the museum further expand the narrative and start looking at a direction for the future.

There is a central showstopper in the form of an earthquake simulator. Immersive 360-degrees projection and a moving base replicate the movement and vibrations caused by the earthquake to convey the magnitude of the natural occurrence to the audience.

The Smritivan Earthquake Museum journey concludes in the seventh block which is a gallery that pays homage to the people who lost their lives.

A temporary gallery where a rotating selection of exhibits can be staged, an auditorium and a café complete the list of the major segments of the Smritivan Earthquake Museum.

For visuals, close to 100 Christie 1DLP laser projectors have been installed in various exhibition blocks to create a dynamic and immersive experience. The projectors are from the HS series, GS series, Inspire series, and Captiva series.

Pixera media servers are used to power the experience at the Smritivan Earthquake Museum which is activated and controlled by ushers and guides.

Regarding the selection, Bathla details: “We started our research with a curatorial framework and tried to create engaging spaces where technology would be a tool that could convey our message. Rather than figuring out what projectors or how many projectors we needed, we looked at it from a visitor-driven perspective and focused on outcomes. We wanted to engage the visitor, make them feel free to explore and immerse themselves. Visitor journey mapping was done with the perspective and so was the selection of the technology we would need.”

Across Smritivan Earthquake Museum, this approach to using projection to highlight the narrative is evident. Bathla expands: “We used weaving as a metaphor for a particular installation of the museum and the traditional process of weaving from the region is explained. We actually use the woven fabric as the projection screen and the visuals depict different motifs. There is also a 30m long continuous ribbon surface that is continuously evolving and that is also used as a projection screen. So, from the audio-visual perspective we were really looking to push the use of projection beyond what it is commonly employed for.”

A particular highlight can be found in the Relive section of the museum where visitors can get an experience that simulates what it would have felt like to be caught in the earthquake. Bathla says: “There is 360-degrees projection that is used to take the patrons on an eight-minute journey to explain what the actual earthquake would have felt like. This experience involves visuals, auditory and sensory experiences and is a centrepiece of the whole journey the patrons go through at the museum. Without technology we would not have been able to create the impact that we wanted.”

Christie HS series projectors are specifically used in the creation of this experience, projecting visuals onto a half dome to create the desired outcome.

On the side of audio, a specific challenge needed to be solved. Bathla explains: “The museum has been designed with open plan galleries. The spaces are not physically divided, and this was to make sure that the patrons had to freedom to explore as they like. With visuals, it easy to ensure that they don’t spill over as the visitors move from one space to the next. But audio can bleed over and interfere with the experiences we wanted to create in the different spaces, creating a confusing effect, especially when you take into consideration that we are looking to bring across the concept of an earthquake and what that entails. So, sound leakage was something that we were careful about.”

Bathla concludes: “From our perspective, the challenge was to establish the central themes and have them be conveyed to the audience. We didn’t want to just talk about the impact of the earthquake, although that was a central component of what we wanted to achieve, and it is important to tell that story. But we also wanted to show the resilience of the people and the ways they are moving forward, and our challenge was to make sure that the storyline highlighted these aspects as well. Once we had decided on a course of action to achieve this outcome, it became a task of making sure all the parties working on the project came together and delivered.”

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