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COWI lighting design sets spotlight on bleak atmosphere in Danish prison

Horsens Prison Museum in Denmark has reopened after an extensive redesign and refurbishment. The new exhibition uses video, animation, sound and a subtle lighting design to bring the old prison stories to life.

​Grey, grim and gloomy. Without attempting to embellish the bleak reality, the exhibition at Horsens Prison Museum offers a view into the daily life of inmates and prison staff during the 153 years the prison was in use.

Exceptional lighting design emphasizes prison atmosphere

Kvorning Design & Communication has developed the concept for the exhibition. COWI's lighting designers are responsible for the lighting that enhances the story of the miserable lives and cruel fortunes behind the closed gates.

With a colour temperature of about 6000 degrees kelvin, the lighting design far from makes use of fancy shades and similar lighting effects that are otherwise typical when making an exhibition nice and inviting. Instead, the light is deliberately understated and bleak and does not leave the visitor in any doubt that they are in a building that was designed to confine some of Denmark's most hard-boiled criminals of all time.

"We have approached this task in a completely different way than we typically do with museum exhibitions. We couldn't make it nice. Therefore, we increased the kelvin degrees, and kept many of the original fittings, such as fluorescent lamps that we gave a tad more than originally," says Jørgen Kjer, who was responsible for the lighting design.

Unlike the typical lighting design for an exhibition where the focus is on the individual exhibits, the whole building and everything that belongs to it is the object. This includes the doors, windows, etc., all of which appear as when the building was abandoned in 2006.

Get a prisoner identity

When entering the former prison, visitors get a wireless - an RFID (radio frequency identification) - that enables them to choose a personal experience with an authentic prisoner or guard, including Denmark's most famous escape artist, Carl August Lorentzen and former minister of justice and con man Peter Adler Alberti. The RFIDs can be activated in the prison cells, kitchens, bathrooms and prison church.

Besides the lighting design COWI has assisted Kvorning Design & Communication in assessing the advantages and disadvantages of different technical solutions including the RFID solution.

By  Helen Marie Bennett  hmbe@cowi.dk
Published 15.06.2015

About Horsens Prison Museum

​In 1853, Horsens Prison (later Horsens State Prison) opened as a modern prison intended for the worst convicts in Denmark. In 2006, the prison was closed and replaced by East Jutland State Prison. With its 153 years of continuous operation as one of Denmark's state prisons, it is an outstanding exponent of a previously unexplored part of the welfare society's cultural heritage.

The prison first opened as a visitor attraction in May 2012 – and is already on CNN's list of the world's ten best prison museums.

LAST UPDATED: 05.05.2017