Stantec talks about RD&E development and placemaking
Stantec has been active in the themed entertainment industry for more 30 years, with a portfolio of retail, dining and entertainment (RD&E); hospitality and resort projects, and an international client list that includes Walt Disney Imagineering, Merlin Entertainments Group, NBC Universal, and SeaWorld.
Recently, the company had the opportunity to collaborate with a client to develop Enjoyland, a new 260-acre RD&E in Zhengzhou (Henan Province), China. In an integrated resort or other leisure development, a successful RD&E functions as a unique experience in its own right – as a hub where visitors can shop, dine and enjoy entertainment venues – while also maintaining a sense of connection with access to other components of the property, such as hotels and theme parks. A successful RD&E prolongs the visitor experience and establishes a strong brand identity leading to increased revenue and repeat visitation.
The Stantec community unites 22,000 employees working in over 400 locations across the globe. Stantec Principal Planner and Landscape Architect Greg Meyer, PLA, describes it this way, “Our multi-disciplinary team of designers explores imaginative ways to convey authentic and memorable guest experiences and create a sense of place. As trusted partners to our clients, the quality and excellence of the built environments we produce reflect our highly collaborative and vision-oriented approach. As soon as a project begins – our team of designers and visualization experts work to seamlessly synchronize the architecture, area development and interior design to create a living model with a parallel path – ensuring the design presentation and construction models evolve and maintain consistency throughout the project.”
In the following Q&A about Enjoyland and the RD&E process, we hear from Stantec’s Greg Meyer, PLA, Principal Planner and Landscape Architect; Daryl LeBlanc, AIA, Principal – Lead Design Architect; and Robert Terry, Associate – Architectural Visualization.
What expertise does Stantec bring to designing a successful themed destination? What is your approach to design and why is this method effective?
Daryl LeBlanc: We assemble a creative team that includes planners, landscape architects, interior designers, architects, artists, and visualization experts to work in unison across disciplines. Involving our 3-D visualization resources group plays a vital role in the success of our design and overall project delivery. This process gives our team the opportunity to collaborate with 3-D visualization early on – we can develop highly complex digital modeling simultaneously as the concept design evolves. We can focus on conveying our thoughts clearly while also streamlining our output to remain as efficient as possible.
Robert Terry: Integrating various disciplines at the conceptual stage and generating a comprehensive digital model for Enjoyland was a huge advantage for us – we were able explore the space more holistically and in real-time. For example, we receive instant feedback of how the area development coordinates with the architecture, and the effect of the sun’s shadows at various times of day or season. With overlaid theming, we can provide the animated dynamics of a ride or attraction, so we can share the vision of the project with our clients in more meaningful ways.
What is Stantec’s role in creating a sense of place and establishing a connection within the context of a larger destination that includes a resort and theme parks? How does the design for an RD&E relate to its role as a “hub” to a hotel and other destinations on the property?
DL: The design approach for a RD&E must be responsive to the planned future development adjacent to the venue surrounding it. In many cases, the RD&E is not the primary attraction for guests visiting the property (i.e. hotel, theme park etc.) – however the RD&E must have the capability to be a successful venue on its own. We understand that RD&E’s need to have a distinct identity. The relationship they have within an overall destination may be obvious in many instances – but in other instances, it might be more subtle. In the latter, smart design elements will remind the guest that this space is part of a larger collection of experiences.
Greg Meyer: RD&E projects are like a microcosm of theme parks and essentially become an added gate. Our experience working with theme parks and retail destinations has led to our blending seamlessly with RD&E projects, meaning the lines between park and retail and dining experiences begin to merge. The intersection of guest experiences from both worlds is exciting and allows us to communicate our client’s brand in new and inventive ways. It’s a holistic way of looking at the client’s overall design goal.
How does your design team blend a cohesive, themed and branded space for your client, while addressing the individual retailers’ need to have their own branded presence?
DL: Typically, larger venues are designed with flexibility as retailers will want more of their own identity expressed while smaller spaces often don’t have the same level for brand expression. If the architecture is meant to act as a backdrop, it’s somewhat easier to imagine how individual retailers can be represented in diverse and unique ways using signage or elaborate interventions within the façade or storefront. The RD&E owner might choose to develop a series of design standards that tell a retailer what types of modifications might be made while keeping the integrity of the RD&E intact.
GM: Placemaking for an RD&E is challenging and should be successful at all levels. It begins with developing a vision for the entire project working with the client and the design team. Once we have an established vison that expresses the overall brand and sense of place, we can then begin to explore and envision how individual retailers will fit into the overall picture.
Are there parallels to working with an IP (intellectual property) holder? What are the challenges of working with an IP holder vs. an owner trying to establish a new brand?
DL: Yes. When working with established IP holders, there are guidelines and expectations as to how that IP should be translated into a physical environment. Sometimes the guidelines present a challenge, but more often they represent the framework for design decisions. When an owner does not have an IP, our job begins with the creation of a similar set of guidelines to help communicate what is important to the brand.
Visitors need space to enter and exit, active spaces, and places to rest and dine. How are design elements applied to accommodate for a range of activity?
DL: The diversity of spaces and activities is critical to the success of an RD&E. It is also important to cater to a wider variety of age-groups than those typically found in some theme parks. Also, as these are largely free-admission venues, the pace of experiences and expectations from guests are different than what is expected in a theme park. There is not the same sense of rushing around and trying to pack in as much as possible to get the most for your money. In that sense, having places to stop, take a breather, and relax become the more predominant drivers. Food and beverage venues with ample indoor and outdoor seating options are successful because they allow people to relax their families and take in the experience, while still spending money.
GM: Outdoor spaces are equally important as the indoor spaces and are usually the first impressions for guests as they arrive and leave. Providing enjoyable outside venues for guest experiences builds expectations and provides opportunities for varied activities that today’s users expect. Incorporating water features, lighting, landscape, seating elements, outdoor dining, signage, and interactive activities in the design for Enjoyland were essential to the project’s overall success.
RT: The objective of the RD&E is to continue to attract people beyond their initial destination. It should offer a smart balance of many different forms of entertainment and experiences. These scenarios could include a space to wind down and relax, for others an opportunity to engage in more active, social environments. For Enjoyland, having an accurate digital model allowed us to better understand spatial relationships based on the unique waterfront topography. We then strategically blend activities to create a purposeful flow that enhances each guest’s experience with amenities while remaining diverse enough to accommodate all visitors.
How do you employ storytelling in design development for the themed outdoor realms? What inspires themes for architecture?
DL: Storytelling is fundamental to what we do. It helps us take an IP or a brand and write out the parameters for the experiences we want to create. In this sense, the architecture often becomes secondary to the experience and more of a backdrop than a focal point.
RT: The story is crucial to a project, it forms the foundation of our concepts, helps set the tone of the space and provokes more highly creative solutions to design challenges. Aspects of the story are subtly woven throughout, providing more meaningful connections that help guide the guests through the space. And our proven process allows us to generate multiple, accurate snapshots of each phase of the project to visually articulate the story to our clients. And after all, it’s all about providing a clear picture of our design throughout the project so we can help our clients create the space they envisioned. • • •
If you’re attending IAAPA in Orlando and would like to learn more about Stantec’s design capabilities, please contact Greg Meyer, Principal Planner and Landscape Architect: (407) 496-8328 or [email protected]