Breathing life into the dome

The O2 promises an unprecedented experience for visitors, but will the all-pervasive branding be a crowd-pleaser? Gina Lovett finds out

This week, The O2, the blockbuster music and sports entertainment destination, owned by US developer Anschutz Entertainment Group, throws open its doors to the public, wooing sponsor O2‘s 17.8 million customer base with the promise of exclusive, preferential treatment and interactive brand thrills.

With more than five architects and design groups involved in the development, design has played an integral part in the delivery of the overall ‘customer experience’ for the site formerly known as the Dome.

Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture, HOK London, RTKL, interactive specialist Mobile Interactive Group and O2 brand guardian Lambie-Nairn have led the structural, interiors, graphic and interactive elements of the development, to create what the venue’s owners are hoping will be an unprecedented interactive experience.

‘There is literally so much to do, we’re hoping visitors will feel like kids in a sweet shop,’ says Amanda Jennings, head of sponsorship and interactive partnerships at mobile phone brand O2.

‘One thing we want to make clear is that The O2 is a fantastic experience for everyone, but by engaging our customers – and if we can communicate the brand in an experiential way – it will capture people’s imagination,’ she says.

Once inside, visitors can expect their time, at least, to be captured. Unique to the venue, the O2 concept store, based on interactivity and education, aims to inspire customers by encouraging them to explore the features of their O2 phones they would not normally use.

Designed by New York architect JDPA, the store will see DJs, photographers and gamers inspire customers to use their phones in innovative ways, while the O2 Create area will enable people to create, edit and download music and music videos to their handsets.

The O2 Concierge – a meeting point and venue information hub at the main entrance – is the first experience of the brand as you walk through the door, while social areas – specially designed exclusive bars and lounges – allow visitors to relax in customisable music environments, with plug-in headphone points, or drink while listening to a text-activated jukebox, or change the projected wallpaper in their surroundings via SMS.

Bordering the main arena is Entertainment Avenue – an avenue as wide and as long as London’s New Bond Street, comprising leisure attractions, including an 11-screen cinema; an exhibition space; Indigo, a 2000-capacity live music venue; as well as bars, restaurants and cafés.

The retail space as destination, it seems, is on the up again. According to Tom Roope, a director of Tomato, by moving out of traditional delivery areas and into sectors such as entertainment, O2 is creating an all-pervasive brand.

‘We first saw this type of thing with Topshop and Selfridges, and more recently in Japan, with Uniqlo. It’s about really setting out your stall as a brand and creating stores that are more about advertising and marketing than they are about trading. O2 seems to be taking [customer] participation to new levels,’ he says.

Nicky Nicolls, group account director at Lambie-Nairn, who worked on the project with the group’s external consultant Gary Holt, explains that while O2 has invested and negotiated rigorously to make its mark on the venue, the result is far from brand overload. ‘It wasn’t a badging exercise. It was about creating a better customer experience, full stop. It was about finding ways that the brand could be expressed without putting the O2 logo everywhere. In fact, there are certain O2 areas that you would not even know were O2,’ she says.

According to Nicolls, without the influence of O2 and its brand guardian Lambie-Nairn, the O2 could have become a Las Vegas razzmatazz-style stadium. In fact, she says, O2‘s involvement in the development has enabled British design to shine through.

‘We’ve really tried to stick to The O2 brand values – boldness, openness, trust, clarity – and make these come alive. It’s a calm, minimal style. Hopefully this will come through in everything from signage, exteriors, colour, finish and division of the zones,’ she says.

Having overseen and signed off everything from architectural drawings to material finishes, Lambie-Nairn has managed to keep a tight rein on the look and feel of the venue.

• The 23 000-seat music arena will play host to Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones, The Scissor Sisters, Prince, Barbara Streisand and Elton John over the coming months
• The 2000-seat Indigo club will host ‘fringe’ gigs
• The arena will also host major sporting events, including tennis, NBA basketball, NHL ice hockey and World Championship Boxing
• The main arena’s hardwood floor can be transformed into an ice-rink at the flick of a switch, while the ceiling can be lowered to make a more intimate setting
• It looks set to be a major venue throughout the 2012 Olympics
• Tutankhamun and The Golden Age of the Pharoahs opens on 15 November at exhibition space O2 bubble

All designs were overseen by O2 brand guardian Lambir-Nairn

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