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Solari Boards: the mystical sound that is disappearing from airports

This is one of the boards manufactured by the Italian firm Solari that were installed at the Jorge Newbery airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the 60s

When night falls on the

Singapore's modern Changi airport

 a line is formed to take a picture with an "old star". People leave their bags on a bench and pose for the photo.

Some smile, others jump, and some even dance. While their photos are uploaded to Instragam, the celebrity continues impassively. Until, suddenly, a noise is heard. It is the moment that so many have been waiting for.

Solari Boards: the mythical sound that is disappearing from airports – Source: Airways Magazine


Travelers point their cameras and the star begins its last performance. In rapid rotation, Kuala Lumpur becomes Colombo, Brunei in Tokyo, and a dozen cities are transformed loudly into others.

Eileen Lim and Nicole Lee are not even going to fly. They came here especially to see the board announcing the departures.

Eileen Lim and Nicole Lee went especially to Terminal 2 of Changi Airport, in Singapore, to take the picture

Eileen Lim and Nicole Lee went especially to Terminal 2 of Changi Airport, in Singapore, to take the picture

"Seeing how the numbers spin is a therapeutic thing," says Lim, a teacher from Singapore. "I love that sound."

Every time he comes to Terminal 2, Lim takes a picture of the board. But now I am saying goodbye. In less than three hours, the board, like many others in different airports of the world, disappear.


This is what a Solari board looked like in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1965

Here is a Solari board in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1965

As the rows of Terminal 2 attest, this type of board is popular. They are a romantic reminder of the so-called golden age of areos travel; a menu of the world; a little accessory for the era of Instagram.

To put it another way: nobody is waiting to take a picture with the digital board in the background.

But like most objects of ancient technology, these boards are inefficient. They are difficult to update and maintain. They do not show complete sentences. They have no advertising.

It is a sound that hypnotizes, remember?

It is a sound that hypnotizes, remember?

When Changi announced the "removal" of their boards, they argued that the pieces were increasingly difficult to find.

Singapore's boards, installed in 1999, disappeared, like hundreds of others from Budapest, in Hungra, to Baltimore, in the United States.

There is no list of how many have survived, but designers agree that they are an endangered species.

Even the company that made them,

Solari di Udine

, no longer sells them to airports.

Award-winning design

The Solari dashboard as seen at JFK Airport in New York in 1962

The Solari board as seen at JFK Airport in New York in 1962

Solari di Udine

 It was founded in 1725 in a small city in northern Italy. The company specialized in tower clocks. After World War II, the company began working with designer Gino Valle.

He and Remigio Solari developed a sign with four flaps, each with ten digits, which was perfect for telling time. The design that is so familiar to us today – with white numbers on a black background – won the prestigious Compasso D'Oro award in 1956.

Further back in time, the first Solari boards sold by the Italian manufacturer in Liege, Belgium, in 1956

Further back in time, the first Solari boards sold by the Italian manufacturer in Liege, Blgica, in 1956

That same year, Solari sold its first mobile sign to the Liege train station in Belgium. With the help of the Belgian inventor John Myer, the design evolved into four flaps, which, like the clocks, were driven by a motor.

Already able to show words in addition to numbers, the Solari board was ready to conquer the world.

The company sold "thousands" of boards to airports and train stations, says its marketing director, Katia Bredeon, even in difficult markets.

"When there were rules of economic protection in Japan, the only product that used non-Japanese technology was the Solari board," he says.

Italy, leader in design

Solari was not the only manufacturer, on the other side of the iron curtain, for example, the Czech company Pragotron made similar products. But, as with the Hoover brand, the Italians became synonymous with design.

Although the company is still a leader in the industry and still sells boards to airports and train stations, these are now electronic.

Even with the advancement of technology, the Gino Valle board has not died. In fact, this Italian design is having a kind of rebirth.

While some airports still retain their Solari board, these are usually museum pieces that are still inertia or Instagram.

In Australia, for example, there are three in the first class rooms of Qantas in Sdney and Melbourne.

"They almost put a glass on them, but the sound is important," the company said in 2016. "Our customers like to listen to them in addition to seeing them."

Expansion business

Today you are more likely to find them outside the airports than within them

Solari di Udine sells them to "shops, restaurants, museums and hotels". Others are also taking advantage of this nostalgia.

In 2013, six engineers who worked together at Drexel University in Philadelphia founded Oat Foundry, a company that manufactures "interesting mechanical things for brands and companies."

Three years later, I contacted a fast food restaurant that wanted to show its offer "in a non-digital way, without customers having to be bathed in that blue light."

The client suggested "an old train station board" and, after four months of research, created a prototype.

The product was a mixture of old and new.

Shortly after advertising their product online, they got a second customer: the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

"And we realized we had something," says Jeff Nowak, the company's marketing director.

Now they have "thousands of thousands of modules" in "almost every continent."


A board at Osaka airport, Japan, in 1965

A board at Osaka airport, Japan, in 1965

But why are they still so attractive?

"It depends on who you ask," says Nowak. "The more functional ones love the sound that marks the change of information. They can keep their eyes on the newspaper and only need to look up when necessary."

"For those who live in a city with an original board, the sound reminds them of the past. The click click represents the anticipation of the trip." "And for generations that do not associate it with the past, it is the analog movement that catches their attention."

The Solari board at the Grand Central Terminal in New York, in 1966

The Solari board at the Grand Central Terminal in New York, in 1966

Last year, the last Solari board was removed from the Amtrak train network in Philadelphia, USA. There was a campaign

so they wouldn't do it

. Later they placed it

in a museum


For Nowak, it is a reminder that people do not always want to adopt the technology of the 21st century. "One will print and frame a letter written by hand or by Tom Hanks," he says. "But you will print and you will put a frame to an email from l? The tangibility of the experience has its value."