EXTREME MODEL RAILROAD & CONTEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE MUSEUM - North Adams, MA

Part of the North Adams Cultural Development Master Plan, the Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture (EMRCA) museum is the key component and audience driver of a nine-component partnership initiative to transform North Adams, Massachusetts into the number one cultural-recreational destination in the country. 

The mission of the EMRCA is to create a world-class unique sophisticated, history-based and content-driven museum-theme park experience that appeals to all ages, literally from 4-104. To accomplish this, the museum will leverage the area’s existing cultural assets and by complementing these with an aesthetically sophisticated museological experience, principally by deploying cutting-edge technologies that are still in the process of emerging. The EMRCA will be an alternative model for art museums, a narrative, immersive, precision-scale history of international architecture and American railroads and a 91, 254 sf hi-tech museum – historical theme park. 

In 2017, Dr. Stephen Sheppard was commissioned to complete an economic impact study of the EMRCA plan and his preliminary conclusions were that the museum could attract between 500,000-750,000 unique visitors per year, that it could create 2,000 permanent jobs across the economy, 670 construction jobs, and generate almost $200 million a year in economic activity. 

Since Dr. Sheppard’s 2017 study, the EMRCA concept has continued to evolve into the current plan which is essentially a black box theater, a carefully controlled environment that will function as the world’s only architecture museum based on models set to a uniform scale. The installation will consist of around 1,200 of these models, 165 of these will be masterpiece buildings by 75 of the world’s most renowned architects. 

The dynamic of the architectural offerings will be international in its scope, featuring works by Frank Gehry, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, Jean Nouvel, Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Arata Isozaki. There will be models of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station in New York. All of this in a main gallery running 670 feet long, making it the single largest exhibition gallery in the world.

This exhibition of architectural models will be activated by 107 simultaneously operating diesel and electric locomotives in O-scale. 12 separate lines and over 9.5 miles of actual 2-rail track, with 5 railyard roundhouses so that the museum’s main gallery will feature trains and architecture all in a single common scale, creating a highly sophisticated world in miniature of the engineering marvels that have effectively shaped our lives to date, both the rail network in the late nineteenth century that first tied the United States together and architectural designs that define our interior spaces. 

Further enhancing the immersive experience will be a 1,200 by 30 foot screen essentially around the installation that allows the projection of a single continuous video operated by 364 projectors and showing various weather patterns, clouds drifting by, storms coming up, changing time of day, airplanes, wildlife and thereby extend the actual installation and using virtual and augmented reality to create a museum experience unlike any other in the world.  

The modeling of the natural landscape content of EMRCA will be enhanced by the availability of a unique set of tools which did not exist even five years ago. New sophisticated terrain mapping software can translate topographic analysis into virtual realities, generating 3-D images that can be faithfully reconstructed into precision-scale models via CNC machines, laser cutters, and 3D printers. 

The marriage of enhanced mapping and 3-D printing and laser-cutting technologies with traditional model making technologies enables the construction of dramatic natural scenes with topographic precision. These examples of landscapes will be replicated on the installation, simulating the real world with unparalleled and unprecedented accuracy.

  • Architect: Zhu Pei

  • Main gallery (length): 670 feet

  • Main gallery (average width): 145 feet

  • Main gallery (area): 56,000 sf

  • Main gallery (interior height): 55 feet

  • Building area: 91,254

  • Education department: 8,000 sf 

  • Renowned international architects: 72

  • Significant masterpiece buildings: 165

  • General/standard buildings: 1, 200

  • Bridges/tunnels: 89

  • Miles of O-scale 2-rail track: 9.5

  • Turnouts (switches): 502

  • Operating steam & diesel locomotives: 107

  • Rolling stock & passenger cars: 2,026

  • O-scale figures/people: 250,000

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