The Fading Memory of Departure Boards

Goodbye to the Solari Board.

If you’ve been to any major train station in the past 15 years, chances are you’re familiar with a certain sound: the flip​, flip, flip of a large overhead departure board every time it updates. But that sound is becoming increasingly rare as analog boards that click—what are known as split-flap displays or Solari boards—are being replaced by digital versions.

In January 2017, Amtrak removed its large overhead departure board from the middle of Penn Station and replaced it with a fleet of digital screens scattered throughout the floor. Penn Station is a universally detested space. Walking through it doesn’t generally inspire romanticism or happiness. But for some reason, when I started asking people about the sign, there was a flood of nostalgia and memories.

This podcast examines how the removal of large overhead departure boards can alter shared human experiences in public spaces and expose the fallibility of memory.

[Photos of the digital Solari board in Florence’s Santa Maria Novella Station are available on the main Vernacular Typography website.]

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Watch the Philadelphia Solari Board in action: