Bruce Green (left) has over 25 years experience as an architect, the last 15 of which have included many high profile theme park and attraction projects: Knott's Camp Snoopy – Mall of America, Euro Disney, Warner Bros. Movieworld Park Madrid and the iconic Entry Arch at Universal Studios Hollywood.
The cornerstone of Bruce’s professional practice, Bruce L. Green Design, is what Bruce calls "Building on Ideas", applying lessons learned across all his projects. Bruce shares some of these lessons and thoughts on design in the theme park industry with Blooloop’s Chad Emerson.
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Blooloop: Share with us how you first got started working in the amusement industry.
Bruce Green: Well it was really kind of a roundabout process. I spent 10 years or so practicing “traditional architecture” office buildings, banks, residential, hotels and so on. I was working on a high rise hotel project in downtown San Diego. The project went on hold for some environmental reasons and the client asked me to take on a pet project of his, the expansion of the San Diego Seaport Village, a waterfront festival retail/ restaurant facility on San Diego Bay. I really didn't want to do it. I was an architect and wanted to build high rises and other “important” buildings. I was assured that when the high rise hotel came back on line that I could shift back over. Well it never came back. Seaport Village was an eye opening experience. There was some good, simple theming and a couple of rides, a Ferris wheel and carousel, but the project was just a lot of fun to work on. The clients were fun people to work with and were trying to develop a product that was meant for people to enjoy. So many of my other projects were all about the bottom line.
After that Knott's Berry Farm was looking for an architectural firm to do the Knott's Camp Snoopy – Mall of America project. They wanted an architect that was big enough to handle a $100 million dollar project but small enough that they would be the biggest client. Our firm was short-listed and I was put forward as the lead architect because of my experience with Seaport Village, once again not all that thrilled since I was still hoping to get back on the high-rise hotel project. Well, we got the project and I had the pleasure to work on it with the gifted people at Knott's for 2 ½ years and I never looked back. I went from there to working on the Disney Paris project and then on to Universal Studios and finally started up my own, small themed entertainment design firm. Over the years I became as much of a show designer as an architect. I used to joke that I “used to be and architect”. But I really feel that some of the projects that I created over this time were some of the most complex pieces of architecture you could imagine. Looking back I wish that I had known coming out of college that theme park design was an option. The kids today do have that option, now some of the major universities' architecture programs actually teach themed entertainment design as part of their curriculum.
Blooloop: What have been some of the most rewarding projects that you’ve worked on over the years and why?
Green: Knott's Camp Snoopy – Mall of America was a whole new world for me and I made some amazing relationships that last to this day. Robin Hall, who was the Vice President and Director of Design and Architecture for Knott's at the time, many years later became my partner in Green Hall Designs, we called it that only because Hall Green's sounded too much like a discount drug store.
Working on Euro-Disney was an amazing experience. The scope of the project, we were working on the second gate attraction when Disneyland Paris opened, was unlike anything I had experienced before or since. The emphasis on quality and the resources put forward to achieve that quality were exceptional. But again, I'd have to say that the most rewarding aspect were the relationships that I formed, many of which have also lasted to today.
Being able to help create the new Main Entry Complex at Universal Studios Hollywood would rank right up there as well. I was able to develop the design for the iconic Entry Arch that later became the symbol and brand identity for the park. The coolest thing about that is that my kids would see the ads for Universal Studios on television in Southern California and would always say, “My Daddy designed that”.
I could go on and on but the bottom line is that I feel blessed to have been a part of some amazing projects and am thankful for the relationships that developed during those times. I look forward to what the future holds.
Blooloop: What were some of the most challenging ones?
Green: Again, I would have to say that they all had their challenges. Theme parks and theme park attractions are inherently complex and out of the norm for a lot of the regulatory agencies and builders that you are dealing with. Knott's Camp Snoopy – Mall of America was a 7 acre, totally enclosed theme park in the middle of the county's largest shopping mall with major rides and attractions, water features, an artificial mountain and over 300 live trees growing inside. And let me tell you, the building code was not written allow you to build a theme park in the middle of a mall.
On the Disney Paris project the new e-ticket attraction I was the lead on was a whole new ride with a new ride system and new effects, to be built in France. And the French codes were difficult at times to understand to say the least. The precedent for many of their codes dated back to the 1700's. At Universal I designed a new kennel facility for the Animal Actors Show, not the most glamorous of projects but extremely complicated. The state animal welfare requirements were very stringent and we housed everything from dogs and cats to vultures and orangutans. Not to mention the fact that we had to get them all on stage from their enclosures without crossing paths with the other animals.
But I'd have to say that the most complicated was probably Warner Bros. Movieworld Park outside of Madrid, Spain. To me it was the most complicated not because of the shows and attractions we developed for them, but the change in relationships that took place over the duration of the project. My group was originally hired to design 7 attractions for the park, mostly children's rides such as the teacups ride. Then we were asked can you take on a couple more and then a couple more. We ended up designing 17 rides and attractions for the park.
The big change came when Six Flags purchased the project from Warner Brothers. We were asked by Six Flags to not only continue with our attractions but also to oversee the coordination of the design of the whole park, the project was in design development at the time. It was a total role reversal in many respects. It was a little awkward at first but we had a great group of talented people who really pulled through and made the project a big success.
One of the most interesting effects of the change, Six Flags purchasing the projects from Warner Brothers, was that we went from developing a park for Warner Brothers themselves to developing a park for Six Flags and licensing the intellectual properties from Warner Brothers. We had to rework virtually every attraction based on this change. As an example, we had developed the exit from the Batman Simulator attraction as a subway station type of space in an area of Gotham City where the super-villains had taken over. We had spray painted graffiti saying “The Joker Was Here, Ha, HA, Ha!” and stuff like that on the walls. We were told by WB that we couldn't do this because the Joker would not announce himself or use spray paint. Our response was “Have you ever seen the first Batman movie?” We were told that we had licensed the comic book version of Batman and not the movie version. So it was quite an effort to get a sign off on all the intellectual property.
Blooloop: Over the years, what have been some of the most significant design innovations in theme parks?
Green: Obviously, the technology. Back when we did Knott's Camp Snoopy we had a simulator theater that had a rigid row of seats, all connected that moved together, somewhat, to the action on the screen. Now we have attractions like Spiderman at Islands of Adventure where the whole ride is a simulator where you pass through a variety of digital experiences. Another high tech attraction that I really like is the King Kong 3D attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. The scale of the simulation and projection is amazing. In the attraction design industry we have something we call the “suspension of disbelief”. You know that what you are experiencing is not real but for the moment it is so engrossing that you don't think about it. I'd have to say this attraction does that in spades.
Blooloop: Going forward, what do anticipate being the next big set of design innovations for theme parks?
Green: I can see things developing down a couple of parallel paths. I think that the technology is just going to get better and more amazing. But it's the ability to translate that technology into storytelling that will be the key. At the end of the day it doesn't matter how cool the technology is if it doesn’t connect with the guests it’s intended for.
I see another path as something I can only think to refer to as a return to nostalgia. The theme park experience is a shared experience. I think that as the baby-boomers and beyond continue to age there will continue to be a longing for community that we all feel to some degree or another. One of the things that will separate the theme park experience from the video game setting, for example, will be the ability to connect with your friends and family in an environment that all ages and demographics can share. My favorite architect was Charles Moore. He said that all great architecture has to be the combination of the familiar and the surprising and I think that's true of theme parks as well. I could see some of the more historic parks turn away from the iron park mentality and embrace their past while still keeping up to date on the types of ride experiences their guests expect.