Rethink Leisure and Entertainment helps create an underwater-themed playland for children in South Korea
By Martin Palicki
ABOVE: The completed Lotte World Undersea Kingdom in Seoul, South Korea Photo courtesy of Rethink
Lotte World Undersea Kingdom began when South Korea-based, multi-national conglomerate Lotte Corporation turned their attention to the growing kids’ leisure market. According to Cara Park, Assistant of Operation and Management for Lotte, industries catering to children in South Korea experienced a growth rate of 70% from 2009 to 2014. Like many other places in the world, kids (and their parents) were seeking quality entertainment experiences, and they were willing to pay for it.
With that in mind, Lotte Corp. – perhaps best known for the indoor/outdoor amusement park in Seoul, Lotte World – began to develop what Park calls “a special theme park at the level of Lotte World, but only for kids.”
Lotte turned to Rethink Leisure and Entertainment to come up with concept designs for the park. Mike Pharr, now Interim CEO at Rethink, was Rethink’s producer on the project when he got involved in early 2015. “Lotte came to us with the idea that they were going to launch as many as 20 properties that were somewhere between entertainment centers and indoor theme parks,” says Pharr. “They wanted a number of thematic ideas that they could choose from for the initial location, with the potential to do multiple versions with different thematic overlays.”
Lotte wanted an interactive, deeply immersive facility. They wanted to transport their guests to a unique place, well differentiated from a normal everyday environment. That led Rethink to explore a number of possible ideas, including:
• A forest setting that would allow children to view the world from the viewpoint of woodland creatures
• A fantastic city where architecture is exaggerated and out of the ordinary
• A superhero training camp where each child becomes the star of the show
• An immersive underwater adventure
The last idea is the one that most appealed to Lotte, and Lotte World Undersea Kingdom was born. “We chose the underwater theme to provide children with a chance to meet the subsea world in the center of the city,” explained Park. “It is a familiar and attractive subject that kids can easily conceptualize.”
Undersea Kingdom contains 14 attractions spread out over two floors in nearly 60,000 square feet of Lotte Mall Eunpyeong in Seoul, South Korea.
According to Pharr, Rethink started off just providing concept design, but the scope of the job expanded and evolved to include additional roles. “We were involved in an education process for Lotte to help identify program requirements and find ride systems that would work with the specific logistics of this property.” The mall was already under construction at this point, so program and creative content had to be integrated with structural and mechanical specifications that were already being built. Because the space had already been identified and structural components already determined, it was similar to working in a retrofit environment, only with a brand new building.
The building’s column grid, for example, provided challenges in design and masking. Rethink worked to incorporate ride space around the columns so that the attractions would conceal them. Those that were not able to be tucked behind rides were given full thematic treatment. “If you imagine looking up from underwater, you see things like coral and seaweed and a variety of beautiful things that would exist in that world,” explained Pharr. “While we were wrapping them with column covers, we also layered them with pieces of coral, seaweed, bubbles and other components that seemed natural and not just rigid or inorganic.” The team also used movement and lighting fixtures to help draw the eye away from nonthematic components.
Rethink also worked with Lotte to help do a basic feasibility analysis, to help ensure the project would be sustainable in the long run. According to Pharr, there are not a lot of comparable projects in South Korea to draw data from, but the team made extrapolations from Lotte’s own existing properties and other parks in the region. “Once we back-filled in that data we were able to figure out the right mix of attractions, food & beverage and retail for the park,” said Pharr.
Rethink provided additional creative services by developing original characters for the park. “We came up with specific characters for the undersea theme that would interact with their own existing characters and complement their stable of IP,” said Pharr.
Finally, Rethink also provided guidance on vendor selection for the attractions, with a global array of leading providers including Zamperla (Italy), Sunkid (Germany), Playtime (USA) and TeamLap (Japan). A team of local contractors selected by Lotte completed the build-out and fabrication of the park, which opened in December, 2016.
Rethink’s concept for Lotte World Undersea Kingdom was designed specifically for young guests and takes them into into an ocean-inspired landscape Image courtesy of Rethink
Since the park opened, response has been positive from local families. The park is now also starting to see more visitors from overseas, as well as growth in visits from school and church groups. According to Park, for the period January through June, attendance increased 53.5% from 2017 to 2018. Additionally, Park stated the park began an international marketing campaign this past April and international visitors rose 1,001% from the second to third quarter of 2018.
Even though the rides are the main attractions of the park, Lotte is proud of creating the immersive environment that they set out to build at the very beginning. Park cited the attention to design and detail. “We focus on the rides as well as the park interior, entertainment options, music, restaurants and shops,” she said. “This project was a new challenge for us, and we are glad we selected Rethink for their experience and skills in creating highly themed facilities.”
“We love designing attractions, but if ideas just stay on paper, then no one gets to experience them,” said Pharr. “We love how Lotte was able to take our designs and truly achieve the goal of creating a fun and immersive kids’ theme park.”
Lotte is looking forward to opening additional facilities as originally planned, exploring some different overlay themes to differentiate them. “We are proud of what the team accomplished in creating an undersea world in an indoor park facility,” said Park. “We are excited to create more unconventional theme park experiences for children in the heart of Seoul.” • • •
FROM INPARK MAGAZINE ISSUE #73, 2018:
Rethink Leisure & Entertainment Named as Principal Designers & Master Planners for Major Nickelodeon Theme Park