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How did the design evolve?


Bryan Avery: The original design was a box. It had a square auditorium, and it could be prefabricated to create the kind of structure which goes to expo sites. It was overclad with a metal frame and it had a hydroponic water feed which spiralled down the building from which the plants (Japanese honeysuckle) grew over the frame like a shaggy carpet.

It would have required an electronic hedge clipper to give the entire thing a haircut every month. The whole idea of the design was to contrast the man-made concrete of the South Bank with a completely planted rotunda.

However, the planners were deeply resistant to the idea of vegetation. Everybody said: 'Can't you make it look more like a building?', so I pared it down and placed emphasis on the internal cylinder which contains the cinema facilities.

Then they said: 'It looks like a derelict gasholder now, ' and I kind of agreed. So I pared it down again and filled the frame with backlit images, which gave it a more cinematic feel.

A leisure consultant said: 'If you could make this look like an IMAX, you would probably get an extra 2,000 people per year coming through its doors.' You could effectively spend an extra £1 million and an extra three months on the project on the basis that you would get an extra 2,000 people visiting a year.

I tried to imagine what you might associate with an IMAX - a mental picture. This had to be cultural as opposed to commercial. It's a formal public building as opposed to a private one. The concept of a place of assembly underpins the idea of the dome - the rotunda - like at the Albert Hall. It is a digital place of assembly. It has to be high-tech as IMAX is about advanced technology. It can't have windows. Its scale has to be big because it's a big screen.

It's over 20m high and 26m wide; it's the largest screen in Britain. And, if the French could be persuaded to confirm the fact, it's probably the largest in Europe. The auditorium houses 482 people.

It also, of course, has to say something about film. It is almost like a zoetrope frieze, the earliest version of film. With a zoetrope, you spin it and see action frozen inside. But, this is the opposite: you put a building in the centre of a roundabout.

You still get the feeling of movement, but the building remains static while the observer drives around it. I liked the concept of the merry-goround, a roundabout within a roundabout. The architectural language has the playfulness of the merry-go-round. It's a form of entertainment and we are also dealing with a form of entertainment. Carousels are like projectors, so it all ties back to film. Obviously, in urban terms, putting something into a roundabout is interesting.

It's an anchoring point.

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