Applied information design: Royal Observatory

This summer, for the first time I went to visit the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. One of the main attractions there is the Meridian Line, which divides the world into two imaginary halves: East and West. I found the whole journey, from Cutty Sark DLR station to the top of the hill pretty interesting and full of little information design gems.

The pedestrian route to arrive to the Observatory is well indicated with wayfinding totems and wall sings all the way from the station. The recent Olympic Games seem to have had much to do with the wayfinding improvement across London (I will be posting about it in the near future).

Once you get to the top, there are quite a few places to visit or simply to contemplate the unusual view of London. The Astronomy Centre and the Peter Harrison Planetarium are located there, just 150m away from the Meridian Line.

In the entrance of the Royal Observatory, there is a bronze plate on the wall showing British length measures. The plate shows each measure in relation to the others. That enables the viewer to compare each unit with the other and get a clearer understanding of their relationships. Those not that familiar with units of length can see at a glance that 1 British yard equals 3 foots, for example. Particularly, I would have like to add the Metre there as a bar, slightly longer than that of the Yard.

After that, once you actually enter into the building and walk across the patios, you find the Meridian Line on the floor (and a long queue of people trying to get photos of it). Names of capital and key cities are organised alongside the Line. They are placed correspondingly on the left (West) or right (East) of the line, according to their latitude. Although, they are all ordered in straight line, their longitudes are also indicated.

Prime Meridian of the word. Centre of transit circle. Latitude 51º 28′ 38” North, Longitude 0º 00′ 00”

The next stop is a visit to the Flamsteed House, the original Observatory building. The very first thing you will see in the house entrance is a device specifically designed to keep the house safe and dry from (highly common) wet umbrellas. What call my attention is that the device doesn’t seem to have any written instructions at all. Instead, it has two visualisations which indicate how you should place your umbrella in order to get the cover or case properly fit.

Both Time exhibitions held in the Flamsteed House are highly recommended and full of lovely objects.

Finally, the shop. Shops in galleries and museums are some of my favourite places. They are not like other shops in the high streets. Instead, incredible books can be found there and the most amazing weird, and sometimes, antique objects. This shop is not the exception. A wide range of compasses, loads of maps (print, 3D, magnets, etc.), and clocks from different styles and periods are some of the stuff that are worth spending time looking at.


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