Case Study

The Gundalow Company

Large touch table with peripheral touchscreens for displaying historic maps, relevant GIS data, environmental indicators, and a simple game to see your impact on the region
The Gundalow Company
Sheafe Warehouse, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
John Lightfoot Greiner
Meteor/Node, D3, GIS

In 2018, the Gundalow Company of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was given permission to use the historic Sheafe Warehouse as the setting for an immersive exhibit about the history of the Piscataqua Region. Perch was brought in to help lead a planning phase and design an interactive centerpiece that could double as an educational tool for school groups.

After a rapid prototyping phase, the group decided to use a massive 84″ touch table with peripheral touchscreen monitors to introduce multiple guests to the Piscataqua River and Great Bay Estuary simultaneously. As visitors explore the different ways the estuary has changed over time on the smaller screens, the large central screen displays color-coded map layers that relate to each user’s chosen topic, anchoring the experience with real-world data. Once visitors have learned a little about the history of each topic, they are presented with a simple game that allows them to explore their own environmental impact on the region.

Changing Nature – 400 Years in the Piscataqua Region is open to the public seasonally from May to June and from September to October.

Housed in the historic Sheafe Warehouse in Prescott Park, the installation juxtaposes 18th-century utilitarian architecture with cutting edge technology.


We began the project with an assessment of the warehouse space, creating four different spatial configurations that met the city’s requirement that the historic structure be completely untouched. From there, we worked with the amazing people at the Gundalow Company to reconcile their content needs with the limitations of the warehouse. With an exhibit plan in hand, we then quickly prototyped a few options for the interactive centerpiece to identify the most feasible technology solution.

Screen Shot 2019-08-20 at 11.35.36 AM
Enormous monitor setup time.

Design & Development

Working with a theme of estuary resilience, Perch began the process of designing an interface that explains the history of development in the Portsmouth region, showcases modern environmental studies and data, and allows visitors to see how their actions impact the Piscataqua Region. We chose a two-interface approach with an optional teacher-mode override that placed most interaction on four built-in touchscreens around a large central monitor, allowing multiple users or groups to interact with the information simultaneously.

When it is not displaying other mapping elements, the large screen shows a custom-built particle system that illustrates the currents of the Piscataqua River, based on data provided by Salme Cook of the UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

What We Learned

  • A whole lot about gundalows (the shallow-bottomed barges of Portsmouth’s past) and the reasons Portsmouth relied so heavily on them as a means of transporting goods.
  • The forested shores of Southern Maine and Coastal New Hampshire used to be mostly grasslands. Landscapes change rapidly!
  • How to display large amounts of GIS data with minimal latency via D3, Meteor, and in-browser caching.
  • The technical knowledge surrounding the limitations of any type of hardware decreases as the size and rarity of the hardware increases.
  • Stories with nuance (and problems with no perfect answer), such as those surrounding our personal impacts on the environment, are still worth telling and exploring.
  • People are not nearly as familiar with aerial imagery as we assumed. Many visitors were enthralled by the basemap alone!