The whole package

As we approach the end of the 20th century, technology is shaping the way we spend our leisure time more than ever, but is it influencing the environments that contain these activities?

Global brands have at last woken up to the idea that architectural statements can enhance, develop and promote their brand. Infotainment and cybertainment centres are starting to appear in our cities, but the relationship between the content and architecture is still at odds.

Nike, with its branded store NikeTown, Disney and Warner Bros, with their themed environments, have all tried, but just because they place a swoosh or a character on their façade, does it really enhance the brand?

The most recent attempt is by the Japanese electronics giant Sony. As the Internet and e-commerce threat grows, Sony is trying to win back customers who would rather stay at home. Last month Sony launched a one-stop entertainment shopping experience in San Francisco – it’s the first of many to appear and it might just be the answer. At a cost of £55m, Sony’s new Megaplex attracted some 150 000 visitors in its first five days. The size of a city block, it contains an IMAX theatre, 15 film screens, eight restaurants and a list of top end brands such as The Discovery Channel Store, Microsoft’s first ever retail store and Playstation’s first flagship. Concluding the list is a trio of amusement park attractions.

It’s an expensive experiment, but Sony sees its first state-of-the-art megaplex as a direct response to the changing trends in retail entertainment. The obvious questions are asked, “Is it a themepark, a shopping centre or a theatre?” Sony prefers to call it a department store for entertainment. Jeff Bezos, chief executive of, was recently quoted as saying he believed “the rise of on-line commerce will force traditional retailers into making the stores more exciting and fun places to visit”.

My own view of this hi-tech temple of entertainment is that its architectural envelope doesn’t express the technology it contains. It would have been a wonderful opportunity to create an example of 21st century architecture that could have interacted with the city and blurred the division between content and urban cityscape. “Emotional entertaining architecture” is when a building can communicate its inner world to an outside audience.

Dresden architect Coop Himmelblau has created an interactive structure in its recently designed multiplex cinema. The concept is a multilayered glass façade that communicates the very medium it contains – film. The foyer is the pre-show, the trailer if you like, the visitor’s attention is not only on the auditorium hanging pods or the city skyline, but the cinema visitor is made to feel part of a film. This is created by the cinematographic space, through the use of depth and shifting viewpoints. If only Sony had adopted this layered, seamless process on its megaplex, it could have created a turning point in the development of entertaining architecture.

You might ask, “Do we need architecture and interior environments?” Technology is now so advanced and broad-based with the multimedia revolution, that architecture might no longer be required. The future of entertainment could be available everywhere and located nowhere.

We can see how the role of the architect influencing the interior content and urban setting is being challenged. My last example is from New York’s Manhattan. Disney is transforming a derelict area of the city into a themed attraction called “Toontown”. What will be realised is a living, breathing three-dimensional cartoon environment where everything is exaggerated. Two-dimensional film becomes three-dimensional reality, set within the shadows of some of the world’s greatest architectural icons. In this brand entertainment concept, architecture could become obsolete.

Historically, there are many good examples of a client who understands the importance of interior content and exterior façades working together as one concept. The cathedral was our first brand experience destination. The floor plan based on the cross influenced the exterior elevations, which in turn affected the height the spire could be constructed. Here is the first example of “emotional entertaining architecture”, a seamless union between the envelope and content. Our architectural equivalent as we come to the close of this millennium is the Greenwich Dome, a cathedral of the 20th century, its content being the corporate brand steeples of today.

Will it be an emotional experience to touch the mind, heart and soul? I think so.

Latest articles