Imagine that in front of you stood a door, and I told you that on passing through this door you would be transported 160 million year into the past to the age of dinosaurs, you would say that I have lost my mind wouldn’t you? However, Renzo Piano would disagree with you, and so would I.
I have always been fascinated by immersive experiences, the Eden project in Cornwall being a fine example, and it would seem that one of the aspects which make them so enchanting is their collaboration with superlative architecture and interior design. The Eden project consist of two vast biomes designed using the concept of bio-mimicry which gives them their distinct bubble shape. This focus on bio-mimicry has facilitated a huge saving in weight and cost due to resource efficiency, in fact the resulting superstructure of the biomes weigh less than the air they contain. Because of the lightweight nature of the ETFE membrane used to create the hexagonal panels, the steel frame was therefore smaller meaning that the resulting structure as a whole let more light in. When viewed from the ground, amidst the dense rainforest and humid air, the relative ease in which your mind gets lost in this enchanting world is astonishing. The only reminder of the outside world coming when your eye is drawn upwards by the towering trees to a gap in the canopy which shows a fanciful hexagonal pattern soaring above you, for some reason the Hunger Games springs to mind.
When people ask me what form truly brilliant architecture comes in I tell them that for a piece of architecture to be truly brilliant, the form which it assumes is extraneous, more importantly therefore is a buildings ability to invoke emotion and feeling; something which when done well can have a profoundly personal effect on those who visit it. Which is partly the reason why I believe architects such as Daniel Libeskind have received so much recognition for buildings such as the Jewish museum in Berlin, a building which cannot possibly be understood from its external appearance, but by the ineluctable emotional connection with the buildings interior spaces. In my opinion a utilitarian building designed solely for either financial or practical reasons cannot possibly be classed as architecture, this distinction should be reserved for buildings which are designed with the primary intention of provoking feelings in those who visit them. This is the reason for my appreciation of immersive architecture.
Saying this, due for completion in 2021 is what will be the worlds largest immersive Jurassic experience, known as ‘Jurassica’, designed by Renzo Piano. Unlike the Eden project, the environment contained within this space is not a replica of an already existing global ecosystem, but a replica of an ecosystem unfamiliar to the human race, that of the Jurassic period. A huge roof structure will cover a 250,000 cubic metre quarry in Portland England, and beneath this roof will exist a Jurassic world complete with animatronic moving replicas of the fauna from this period, on both land and in water. The location of Jurassica will be ideally located in close proximity to the Jurassic coastline, a place where much of the research and collection of prehistoric fossils currently operates, and will provide a much needed visual aid to assist in the education and experience of this fascinating period of time.
The aim of the project is to not only to create the largest Jurassic experience, but to ensure that it is also the most accurate representation of this long lost time. The project has already attracted many distinguished figures in support such as Sir David Attenborough.
Immersive architectural environments can be very easy to achieve on a small scale, it is however far more difficult to achieve on a larger scale. The Eden project is a fine example of how immersive environments can be extremely captivating places to experience because the architectural forms employed are intended to focus our attention on their contents, while producing an external appearance which draws us in. Jurassica certainly seems to tick all of the boxes in this sense, which promises that we may soon be experiencing a truly magnificent immersive space not only because of its educational nature, but also because of it’s fantastic architectural prowess.
I look forward to the day when we can all pass through the door standing in front of us, and immerse ourselves in history.
By Edward Powe – Stage 2 BA (Hons) Architecture
Image credit – Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Jurassica 2014