A unique museum in Florence features a huge model railway with more than a high-tech twist. reports Mike Clark.

Recently opened in Florence, HZero is a unique museum, not only because its main attraction is one of the largest model trains in Europe (taking up almost 300 m²), but also for its use of Soundscape by d&b audiotechnik and d other state-of-the-art AVL technologies, including a dozen Panasonic laser projectors creating the model’s spectacular video backdrop.

Tuscan Marquis Giuseppe Paternò Castello di San Giuliano was responsible for the original idea and began building the first model in 1972 at his family home, which grew to the point that it had to be moved to a barn on the family estate and later in a shed. in Scandicci, on the outskirts of Florence.

Over the years, the founder has been supported in the work of designing, building and managing the model by various technical and creative specialists, all inspired by their passion and dedication: Marco Baldi, Carlo Brandolini, Gino Guerrini, Beppe Innocenti , Giuseppe Mutolo, Edoardo Pennacchio and Alberto Pero Proietti.

Thanks to this group of hobbyists specializing in model railroading and the commitment of the Marquis’ children, Diego, Giulia and Maria, the model grew at such a rate that it was decided to turn the project into an open museum. to the public. A new location has been found in the old Ariston cinema, rebuilt in the center of Florence to house the museum, of which the giant model, the result of more than 40 years of passionate work, is the centerpiece.

HO or H0 is a 1:87 scale model railway, the most popular in the world. The museum’s name comes from the 1:87 scale, half that of the O scale, previously the smallest of a series of older, larger gauges.

The building area (about 900 m²) is divided into two main rooms, one hosting the model and the other dedicated to thematic exhibition areas, workshops for model making courses and conference rooms for events organized with model railroad experts and other specialists. . For its move to the museum, the model had to be divided into seven sections, each transported at night on a special semi-trailer.

The model includes 70 Italian, Austrian, Swiss and German trains running from the 1930s to the present, manufactured by Märklin and Piko (Germany), Roco (Austria) and Milan-based ACME. Among the best-known models is the Italian E444. the electric locomotive “Tartaruga”, manufactured in the late sixties, the Swiss electric locomotive Ce 6/8 nicknamed the “Crocodile”, the German diesel locomotive VT 11.5 1957 of the Deutsche Bundesbahn, built for TEE services, and some prototypes built by the Third Reich, such as the experimental Autorail Schienenzeppelin of the 1930s.

Massimo Carli, CEO of Mediacare, the project’s AV contractor and system integrator, explains his hardware choices. “The technical feature that led me to choose d&b audiotechnik’s 5S and 4S loudspeakers was their conical dispersion – with Soundscape, the wider the loudspeaker coverage area, the more accurate the system.

As for the projectors, they obviously had to be top quality, reliable and maintenance-free, and we were able to avoid installing them above the model thanks to the timely arrival on the market of the ultra-short ET-DLE020 projector. from Panasonic. launch HD zoom lenses, designed precisely for use in extremely tight spaces, therefore able to be installed close to the screens on which they project.

Indeed, the museum of Florence hosts the first installation of 12 Panasonic projectors with edge blending using these lenses.

Carli also suggested using a Soundscape system, explaining the particularities of immersive audio, and the idea was endorsed by client and sound designers Tempo Reale. Mediacare took care of the installation of the speakers, cameras and projectors and the cables were installed by the museum’s electricians following Mediacare’s instructions, with 2.7 km of cable installed for the system alone. automation of the model (there are more than 1,000 streetlights, 121 signals and 147 motorized points) and it is possible to run up to 45 trains simultaneously.

To prevent the model from altering the sound of the subwoofers, it was decided not to mount them on the ground below, but to fly them from an overhead structure (a series of six section truss bars custom square Trabes and aluminum cable ducts) along with lighting, spotlights and fourteen 4S speakers.

Thirty-three 5S loudspeakers are installed on the walls surrounding the model, four 4S above each of the three visitor passages in the middle of the model, one above a waterfall and another above the station .

Tempo Reale is a music production, research and education center founded by composer and electronic music pioneer Luciano Berio. In addition to the audio mixing of the project, Francesco Giomi and Francesco Canavese from the center were responsible for all aspects of the sound design of the “soundtrack” of the model, the sounds following the “rhythm” of the video content, using the spatialization and static positioning. In addition to the original music, composed by Bologna-based Simonluca Laitempergher, the immersive soundtrack also includes the sound of ships, traffic, machinery, planes and trains.

Giomi and Canavese spatialized all of the music and sound effects using Soundscape En-Scene’s object-based signal management, so the audio follows the movements of a large moored ship, lumberjack chopping wood and the movement of trains running through the video. With the exception of two effects on the real model (resort and mountain), the audio follows the movements of the video content and Soundscape’s En-space module is used to add sound-enhancing effects.

In collaboration with museum curator Alberto Salvadori, Tempo Reale and lighting designer Angelo Linzalata, Milan-based multimedia design studio Karmachina has created an immersive video story based on the huge model that is the museum’s protagonist, with images taking visitors on a fascinating journey to discover the extraordinary world of model railways.

The visual language chosen by Karmachina’s team of illustrators and animators was that of illustration and motion graphics, with the same meticulous care that model builders put into their creations.

The story is made up of scenes inspired by the landscapes and elements making up the model and takes viewers on a journey through time and space: through the four seasons and the different times of day (from dawn to sunset), and moving through the landscapes represented by the giant model (mountain, sea, city and countryside): windows on imaginary worlds and sections of life that highlight the constellation of small scenes meticulously reconstructed over time. years by the builders of the model.

Linzalata explains: “This project was to some extent similar to a theatrical production – I had to create a dynamic design formed by a series of clues which, together with the video projections and the audio content, could evoke the passing hour of the day and weather conditions, bringing the model’s scenarios to life.

As for the lighting of the real model, such as the street lamps, the lighting of the stations and apartments, the incandescent lamps of the original parts of the model have been replaced, in order to have micro LED models everywhere. The model is illuminated by a track-mounted configuration, including 84 custom COB Side Bend Mini Slim LED spotlights and 32 ProLight GalleryEclipse mini-LED ellipsoids.

Linzalata was assisted by the expert grandMA programmer Matteo Benvenuto, who managed a grandMA3 Light console, whose user-friendly timecode management made it possible to program all the scenes and test them simply and quickly before uploading them to the server (Pandora’s Box).

The COB LED luminaires are controlled by a DALI system, while the ProLight units are controlled via DMX, so the setup required a DALI-DMX converter to allow the whole system to be controlled via DMX, ensuring a greater versatility. Linzalata opted for the DMXtoDALI quad from Artistic Licence. All the technology had to be controlled by a single interface and the choice fell on Pandoras Box which, in addition to controlling video, can also control audio files, generate DMX via Art-Net and ensure a user-friendly configuration for the museum staff.

Diego di San Giuliano enthused: “HZero is the result of a dream come true – a dream of my father. It is a project that he desired with great determination to personally realize and in which he was able to participate actively in the last years of his life. The idea of ​​transforming more than 40 years of work and passion into a museum for the city of Florence really excited him and we children are extremely happy to be able to continue working towards the realization of this great dream.

Carli comments: “Difficulties with the installation were more physical than technical in nature, for example the tests on the numerous surveillance cameras under the model (with IR LEDs for low light level) had to be carried out lying down, or at best on your knees, under the model! Seriously, this unique project particularly satisfied us, not only for the final result of the “show”, but above all for having been able to suggest the use of cutting-edge technologies to the creative team and to the clients, who were open to innovation to achieve desired results.

Technical specification


Cisco 300 Series Switches – 24 Port
d&b audiotechnik xS series loudspeakers, B8 subwoofers, 10D amplifiers, DS10 audio network bridges and Soundscape DS100 signal engine
HP Reaper PC Drive


Christie Pandoras Box PK1 Compact Hardware
Panasonic fixed dome and PTZ cameras, PT-RZ770LBEJ 58-inch monitors and projectors

Image credits: Gianluca Moggi & Karmachina