The Lost Palace is an interactive exploration of Whitehall Palace’s spaces and stories…300 years after they burnt to the ground.
Historic Royal Palaces, who look after the last remaining building, Banqueting House, worked with Chomko & Rosier to create an experience that combines interactive technology, immersive audio theatre and architectural installations.
“I was amazed how easily modern life drifted to the background whilst the past became more vivid and alive around me.” Lost Palace visitor.
During the summer of 2016 thousands of visitors took to Whitehall’s contemporary streets with bespoke wooden hand-held devices. They actively participated in events that happened centuries ago and interacted with installations inspired by the architecture of the ‘lost’ palace.
The design process
“Very very amazed by the recreation of Whitehall in the Lost Palace by @HRP_palaces loved the forms the “device” takes” @seedkeeper
The project team placed the user at the centre of the design process. Over a one-year development period, prototype interactions were tailor-made to engage the visitor with specific stories from the palace in their original locations. As these prototypes were developed, multiple rounds of on-site testing with the project’s target audiences were set-up, mainly involving families.
This user-centred, iterative design process allowed the project team to refine interactions: if the audience found the prototypes lacked either clarity or emotional resonance, we re-developed and re-tested. Through this process we arrived at the experience’s core set of interactions.
In addition, large-scale architectural elements of the palace were reproduced, and placed on Whitehall’s streets where they once stood. These burnt oak installations, embedded with NFC stickers, formed interactive landmarks within the experience.
“Through doors and ceilings, I listen to the past. I carried the beating heart of Charles I #LostPalace” @Dr_Milkyway
The interactions are all performed through a wooden, screen-less handheld device. The device acts as a ‘historical surveillance’ tool: users ‘scan’ buildings, as if using a parabolic microphone, or touch the end of the device to the architectural interventions to uncover hidden stories.
The design of the device intentionally draws attention away from itself, and into the surrounding environment – giving the visitor a sense of control and agency, with the knowledge that their movements directly affect what they discover around them. The design also allows for moments of unexpected delight as the device transforms itself into a gestural sword controller, a fighting cockerel, or delivers the haptic sensation of holding a beating heart.
“Just experienced #thelostpalace Exceptional, playful & very moving!” @suerhodes82
The Lost Palace fits best into the Engaging category, as it delivers meaning and history through holding attention and creating delight. As a project, its success was dependent on our ability to capture the visitor’s attention and imagination. Our feedback shows that we’ve managed to do this through creating location-based and story-specific interactions. Over 90% of users agreed or strongly agreed that the experience both “brought the history of the place and time to life” and “made me feel more connected to the place and its past”.