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Design Spotlight: The London Postal Museum

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On the surface at least, there's nothing particularly exciting about the mail, and yet without it, many facets of our society simply couldn't function. Granted the internet has cut down significantly on a number of everyday necessities, but sometimes an email just isn't enough.

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Speaking as a man who probably spends more than he should on trinkets and doodads from Amazon, I honestly couldn't live without the mail, or would at least struggle to do so. As such, I admire the concept behind the London Postal Museum, upon which work recently began. This is no ordinary museum though, this is a museum that comes from the Disney school of flash bang and wallop design, with immersive, themed interactive experiences such as the fantastically named “Mail Rail” ride set to supplement the more traditional exhibits.

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The design of the £26 million project is being led by architect Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios, which has developed a master plan for the site of the former Mail Rail depot at the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant sorting office. The USP, however, is undoubtedly the Mail Rail ride, which will cover 1km of track, laid underneath the sorting office, where the actual “Mail Rail” once ran. This was the first driverless electric railway in the world, and it ran from 1927-2003, carting mail back and forth between sorting stations at surprising speed.

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Five interactive zones are being designed by Haley Sharpe Design, and will take visitors through five centuries of postal service in the UK with a particular focus on how people’s lives were changed. HSD will use different types of interfaces, AV displays, projection mapping and more traditional media to unpack stories from various display artefacts.

We started working with the organisation over two years ago when we were told the project needed to be fresh, dynamic, unexpected and fun” Jan Faulkner, Director of Design at HSD

The museum tour begins with visitors descending into the tunnels, where they will enter the first zone, simply called “The Royal Mail,” where a traditional pillar-box red horse drawn mail coach sits. It would have once apparently been staffed by postmen carrying weapons to ward off attacks from highwaymen and pirates. The second zone, “Mail for Everyone,” looks at the growth of the Post Office in the 19th Century where a priceless sheet of Penny Black stamps will be displayed. The 19th Century marked a time of great social change in Britain, making it possible for people to communicate cheaply for the first time.

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The next zone is “Post Office in Conflict,” which tells the story of the Post Office salvage squad who worked through the Blitz to save mail from bombed Post Offices and pillar boxes. The “Designs on Delivery” zone will then examine The Royal Mail’s historical connection with art and design, including the work of its marketing department in the 1930s and a 1963 plaster cast, which was used to create a portrait of The Queen for stamps. Finally, “Communication and Change” rounds off the exhibition and reflects on what the postal service means to those who worked for it and how it changed over time.

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Other spaces include a family play zone and a dedicated learning space as well as a research facility with archives containing 2.5 miles of shelving. The Postal Museum, which has been branded by Sumo, is set to open in 2017. The branding features an envelope-shaped mark which can be inverted to represent either the museum or the Mail Rail.

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In all it looks like a potentially unique day out that will transform a seemingly banal subject into something kids and their parents will actually be able to get excited about. The Post Museum, which was known previously as the British Postal Museum & Archive, is set to open in 2017. So make a note in your calendars!

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Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.

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