Find the Past

Thingvellir, Iceland

The Thingvellir National Park has many archaeological sites that relate to where people stayed in the area when visiting the yearly Althing, Iceland’s parliament or national assembly, in ancient times. Some of these historic sites are easily visible, such as remains of walls, cairns and old travelling routes, while others lie concealed under earth or water.

Most of the sites relate to Althing, which assembled at Thingvellir from 930 until 1798. People travelled from all over Iceland to spend two weeks of summer at the assembly, where laws were enacted, legal verdicts declared, and disputes settled.

Designing this experience demanded a new approach to creating immersive experiences, given that Iceland has extreme weather conditions. From arriving at the parking lot to embarking on a journey on the trail, the design decisions needed to consider a variety of factors, such as:

  • How might we design something people can use on their own without adding infrastructure such as electricity or the Internet?
  • How might we invite people to an experience without disturbing nature in the park?
  • How might we create an engaging experience which gives a glimpse into the past, even when it’s nearly dark all day long, or there’s midnight sun?
  • How might we design an experience for people wearing gloves and many layers of clothing in the cold winds of Iceland?

To solve these problems, we considered that most visitors will have a mobile phone, and after the COVID-19 pandemic, most are familiar with using QR codes to scan for information. We therefore designed signage which explained about the history and relevance of the area, and included a QR code which visitors can scan to start the experience.

At different points on the pathway, visitors encounter QR codes which tell short stories relating to the Icelandic Sagas and share glimpses into the past using augmented reality. As visitors enter the experience, they see the landscape in front of them on their phone screens and then discover ghostly villages, people, horses and activities unfolding in front of them. These scenes were filmed on a green screen and then superimposed on the location where the story took place. In this way, visitors can gain a glimpse into the past and see it come to life before them.

We designed the on-screen experience to be very few, easily manipulatable buttons with a high contrast colour scheme so that whether it is the dark days of winter or the magical never ending sunlit days of summer, visitors are able to easily see and interact with the screen, and start the experience. Gagarin Design Team

From the opening, Einar Á.E. Sæmundssen, Director of Þingvellir National Park, Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Business Affairs and Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson, Minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate.