MET Studio has designed an immersive visitor experience, 'The Monastic Way,' celebrating 1000 years of Buckfast Abbey and telling the story of 1500 years of Benedictine monks and nuns history. The Abbey, in Devon's Dartmoor National Park, is England's only medieval monastery to have been restored and used for its original purpose following its destruction during the reformation of Henry VIII's reign.
The Monastic Way is designed to take visitors on a journey away from everyday routine and begin to understand and empathize with the Benedictine monks and nun's way of life. MET has designed an organic, thought provoking and interactive experience for all ages. It features large multi-screen digital films, 3d models that come to life, touchscreens and 'lean-in' pods for a more personalized experience. And there are specially created areas throughout to sit and ponder quietly.
"One of our greatest challenges has been to represent the unfamiliar story of Benedictine history and the Abbey, whilst at the same time asking questions of the visitor," commented Peter Karn, Creative Director at MET Studio. "The elements that encourage reflection and contemplation help people to empathize with the Benedictine monks and whilst the experience is designed to lift the lid on their way of life, it's not about preaching or pushing hard with facts and figures.
"Benedictine monks and nuns follow the Rule of St. Benedict summed up as a life dedicated to prayer and work with values of charity, serving community, respect and listening. "Working with the Abbot and his team at Buckfast Abbey has been a deeply collaborative, lengthy and enjoyable experience," Karn added. "The unique subject matter led to many philosophical discussions to understand the culture and emotional heart of the project; what is faith, what is prayer and so on. As exhibition designers and having been taken slightly out of our comfort zone, we needed to approach this in a very different way."
The Monastic Way visitor experience has been designed by MET as a linear journey, starting with the foundation of faith and moving through seven chapters:
Solitude - an outdoor experience designed to facilitate visitor's transition from a busy world into a slower and more thought provoking space. A place to sit, reflect and gather themselves prior to entering the rest of The Monastic Way experience. Undulating wooden slated oak walls delineate the space, hosting white curved benches for visitors to take a seat and think a while. Suspended quotes focusing on 'listen,' 'silent' and 'peace' gently punctuate the space. Overhead pleached Limes add further softness, reflecting the Abbey's peaceful surroundings and its connection with nature.
Calling - here visitors get to understand, through filmed interviews in individual recessed circular pods, that monks and nuns come from everyday life. Brother Anthony of the Abbey and people from all walks of life talk about their own 'calling.' It's an accessible way visitors can begin to understand what it means and, religious or not, questions 'what is your a calling in life?'
Faith - dominating one wall, an illustrated timeline outlines the key moments in Christianity over the past 2000 years and events at Buckfast Abbey, with artifacts explaining their relevance. Opposite, a series of stained glass window images reflecting those in the Abbey, are captured in light boxes and set the scene for the Abbey building experience.
Monastery - this zone focuses on the grounds, buildings, history and daily life at Buckfast Abbey. Visitors interact via touch buttons relating to a particular section of the Abbey's buildings. Simultaneously an animation appears about that period in time on screen, whilst an AV Perspex model of the Abbey lights up its relevant section, showing how the Abbey has developed over time. Two large puzzle exhibits allow visitors to both recreate the Abbey's ceramic floor tile patterns and their own stain glass window.
Guide - explores the Rule of St. Benedict: the 3 vows and 5 rules by which the monks at Buckfast Abbey live. Animated images explaining The Rule appear on a large screen as the visitor moves their hand to virtually turn the pages of the book below. Elsewhere, visitors can type in what they pray for and their prayer then floats up on a screen through the clouds, appearing to disappear skywards.
Life - explores a day in the life of monks at Buckfast in parallel with our own. The wall of backlit screens depicts hour-by-hour from rising to bedtime, the daily routine that never changes. A talking head feature encourages visitors to 'ask the monk' about their lives.
Journey - showcases through a large curved screen, a powerful animated film of how Benedictine history is intricately interwoven with world history, from the big bang through to the Roman Empire and up to the present day.
"Designing The Monastic Way has been such a unique experience for MET, there really is nothing else quite like it. It's not a museum or gallery, it's far more emotive than that and it's the main reason we were drawn to the project in the first place," adding that "the team at Buckfast Abbey showed patience, courage and a trust in us to interpret their entire identity. Their level of faith in MET allowed us to push the envelope and create an experience that is not be just another heritage project, it is far bigger than that. We are all very proud of the outcome," Karn concluded.