Horse to Hyperloop (c) Davy Bell

Sophie Connor, architect at Ryder, reflects on her recent experiences as part of the group responsible for designing and delivering Horse to Hyperloop, part of the Great Exhibition of the North, held at Cooper’s Studios during the summer.

Following an initial open house design review, a Task and Finish group was established to design, develop and deliver Horse to Hyperloop.  The concept stemmed from Ryder’s recent success with Northern Arc - a proposed route across the north of the UK for Hyperloop which was one of 10 winning routes in the Virgin Hyperloop One Global Challenge - and the story of Cooper’s Studios, our home in Newcastle, and the innovation behind the building’s design.  

James Cooper, a successful horse trader on the Groat Market, commissioned the building in 1897 as a horse and carriage repository.   However, Cooper knew that automobiles were the future of transport and incorporated an upper floor suitable for taking the load of an automobile.  As Horse to Hyperloop was located on the Innovation trail, this connection between 200 years of invention and forward thinking in the north felt like a great story to tell. 

One of the challenges we faced as a group, when deciding on the content and activities for the exhibition, was how to make the exhibition interesting to all ages.  Another key consideration was how to accommodate both short stays and longer stays, from five minutes to 45 minutes.  We decided to develop several design activities to get visitors to consider the potential appearance of Hyperloop and how the design process works, supported by rolling information screens that allowed those with more time to delve deeper.

The Bridge to the Future activity asked visitors to consider what a bridge for Hyperloop might look like over the River Tyne, giving visitors a template plan and section to design on.  We ran this as a design competition to encourage visitors to take part.  The Travel in Style activity required visitors to design their own Hyperloop pod, which could be sent around the exhibition in our tube installation, demonstrating how their designs looked in action.  We developed model packs of local landmarks, cut out using our laser cutter, to demonstrate the technology we use to develop models to explain our ideas to clients   These were sold for charity, raising £2,565 for Bright Red over the course of the exhibition.

We had no real idea of how many visitors to expect, so welcoming over 7,000 visitors across the 80 days, including the Duke of Cambridge, was a great success.

One of the highlights of the exhibition, for me, has been seeing how children have interacted with the activities and tube installation.  We welcomed over 3,500 school children through the school’s engagement programme and many more with their families over the weekends and summer holidays.  Whilst at times a little noisy, hearing the shouts of delight as the first pod was sent round the installation, and a chorus of “thank youuuus” at the end of their visit, had even the grumpiest of people in the office smiling.

Having received around 5,000 entries to our Bridge to the Future competition, and sent 18,000 pods around the tube installation, we hope that some of the visitors and children will go on to consider careers in design or construction, inspired by their visit to the exhibition.