Technology. HZERO: A High-tech Journey aboard an Old Train

New technologies meet nostalgia and craftsmanship in a new museum destination in the heart of Florence. HZERO is ready to transport visitors in the world of trains, promising a journey that engages all senses.
The immersive experience results from the magic created by multimedia design studio Karmachina, sound studio Tempo Reale and light designer Angelo Linzata, a team that bring innovation to cultural communication. With a combination of visual images, lights, and sounds, the museum is a dynamic playground designed to engage visitors of all ages.


By Maria Teresa Morano. Cover image: Photograph by Karmachina. Courtesy of HZERO.


The universe of trains holds a poetic quality that awakens a sense of nostalgia for a world that has never been our own. While, in current times, we are travelling at the speed of light toward new virtual realities, it could be comforting to get lost in a dimension of dreams.

Perhaps a big dream inspired Giuseppe Paternò Castello di San Giuliano to start collecting electric trains in 1972. More than just a dream, he had an ambitious plan that – after over forty years – has seen the light of day in the heart of Florence.

HZERO is the new Florentine destination devoted to the universe of trains, home to the impressive San Giuliano’s model railway. One of the largest in Europe, with a 280 m2 surface, the model railway is a journey in a world of fantasy and beauty. The work of Giuseppe di San Giuliano is striking for the meticulous attention to detail and the realistic setting that transport the viewer from the streets of Berlin to the mountains of Cortina d’Ampezzo.


Beyond the impressive dedication, this large-sized model is, more importantly, an exceptional example of craftsmanship and engineering. After years in the making, HZERO presents this sophisticated work in a setting that emphasises its artisanal value with ultra-modern technology.

The model’s fabulous landscape acquires dimension thanks to a well-thought system of video projections created by Milan-based design studio Karmachina. Combining design, storytelling, and a multidisciplinary approach, Karmachina gives life to “highly suggestive immersive environments, alternative worlds where wonder and emotion reign,” as they explained to I’M Firenze Digest.

For HZERO, however, Karmachina’s team already had a solid story to start with as they “enhanced an already existing fantastic universe: the huge San Giuliano model railway with all its landscapes, characters, and stories.’’

As a result, the studio decided to project some of these settings and scenes on the walls, constructing “an immersive narration that guides the visitor on a captivating journey through the unique miniature railway’’.

Photograph by Karmachina. Courtesy of HZERO.

The animations, developed in dialogue with curator Alberto Salvadori, use “the language of illustration and motion graphics,” they continue to explain. “The meticulous work that took months was carried out by a team of illustrators and animators using digital tools.’’

This solution perfectly reconciles the museum’s artisanal soul with the use of new technologies to communicate cultural content. As stressed by Karmachina, this attitude toward innovation sees new technologies as “a vehicle that gives voice to tangible and intangible cultural heritage, foster the public’s emotional connection by encouraging active participation and a willingness to learn and discover’’.


The multifaceted landscape acquires another layer of perception thanks to the sound component curated by Tempo Reale, a Centre for Research, Production and Music Education founded by Italian composer Luciano Berio. In collaboration with Mediacare AV, Tempo Reale created, in their own words, “an ultra-modern system based on advanced technologies of sound spatialisation. More than fifty speakers structure a narrative of space that, on the one hand, abstractly highlights the geometry of the space and, on the other, follows the visual path created by Karmachina.’’

Photograph by Gianluca Moggi. Courtesy of HZERO.

With sounds, the experience is complete, totalising, and “visitors find themselves immersed in a soundscape that offers an entirely different perspective according to their movements and surroundings’’. Sounds also introduce an emotional quality, “suggesting an interpretation of the model railway that recalls the feeling of travel.’’

At HZERO, new technologies work in tandem with the model railway to create an experience that involves all the senses working at different levels of perception. In a world saturated with visual stimuli, the work of Tempo Reale emphasises the importance of sounds in audiovisual products. As they continue to explain to I’M Firenze Digest, “the role of sound as an effective means of expression, either mixed with visual elements or autonomously, is growing increasingly and in multiple contexts’’.

Aside from the fabulous world of trains, it’s inevitable to think about all the universes still to discover, especially virtual ones. Although sounds are not centre stage in the digital world, according to Tempo Reale, things are about to change in the Metaverse. “While we’re experiencing a decrease in electroacoustic conditions online, this issue can be solved by high-tech miniaturised audio systems in the future’’.
New technologies are revolutionising everything, even how we experience art and culture, opening new possibilities for creativity and storytelling.

Maria Teresa Morano is an Istituto Marangoni Firenze Alumna. She completed her Master’s in Fashion Promotion, Communication and Digital Media in 2020.

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