Land Design Studio has revealed to the aj its final plans for the Play zone inside the Millennium Dome, which promises a series of imaginative, educational - and non-violent - high-tech games, none of which have been seen in this country before.
Creative director Peter Higgins said that the architects and interior designers at the 'interpretative architects' firm have designed the scheme to a tight schedule and that he personally has travelled the world searching for new, innovative and challenging games. The result of his search is a final list of events which have been arranged around and within a striking angular circulation ramp which turns through 360degrees and acts also as a lookout post for the rest of the zone. The visitor movement patterns - the zone will have to deal with a throughput of 3600 people per hour - informed the rest of the structure.
Higgins says that this process has been a refreshing change from the practice's normal line of work, a series of high-profile lottery projects where the firm has been brought on board - often regrettably late in the day - to create exhibitions for sometimes wholly inappropriate interiors. This has been the problem of misconceived schemes, Higgins argues, with buildings such as the National Centre for Popular Music, which 'will be a club within a year' and the Earth Centre. At times, the Play zone has also been beset with difficulties due to changing briefs and the extraordinarily long list of consultees, development partners, and groups - not to mention politicians. Last November, for example, it was decided that the zone needed 900m2 of retail space at ground-floor level - with just 350 days to go.
Just two of the exterior walls have 'architectural' features - the 17 fibreglass 'snouts'. These are functional devices which hold the video projection units which project the games onto a long 'wall' inside the zone. The snouts, nicknamed 'whales' by the practice, were manufactured in a shipyard in Falmouth, Cornwall and cheekily extend the building's 1454m2 footprint by 480m2. From the outside they will 'crackle' with a light feature to animate the exterior.
Many of the games to be installed in the zone are ingenious and ground- breaking, but the idea of traditional shoot-em-ups or arcade-style machines has been deliberately eschewed. One game is for 100 people seated before a large video screen. It is like an updated version of 'Pong', the original tennis video game. The 'bats' - here a cat and dog - are controlled by the audience in a test of collective working and team-building. Each person has a wand, which is green on one side and red on the other. By holding up the appropriate colour, they can control the 'bats', keeping the virtual 'ball' in play.
Another game is a piano, remotely controlled by digital signals via a trackball and a button, while another, 'Armchair goalie' has a real football for players to strike at the screen. On the other side of the screen, a second player seated in a chair must attempt to 'save' the ball estimating where it will end up using a computer to control a virtual goalie. Visitors may also travel the Dome on a fixed bike connected to a video screen in 'Architec Tours', or attempt to cycle another bike through 360degrees in the central 'Adrenaline Zone'. Another interactive 'room' has characters in the wallpaper which come alive interactively.
The zone, which is unsponsored, is likely to be a popular one - queuing players can wait their turn on glowing, fibreglass benches. Twenty or so 'enablers' will keep order.
Other features include an exit sequence via a travellator, passing the other side of a series of objet trouve of features of the zone. Visitors will see the same objects as on their entrance to the zone - a bike made of sports equipment for example - but as they exit, objects will 'come alive' through sequences projected onto them.