Bluehaus Group, Dubai, MAF, Majid Al Futtaim, Orbi

Case study: Simulation technology immerses visitors in nature environment

Dubai-based Bluehaus Group provides interior design and MEP engineering for the new Orbi Centre in Dubai, the first outside of Japan, developed by Majid Al Futtaim, Sega and BBC Worldwide.

Audio-visual and technological products that can be seamlessly integrated into the spaces we occupy are more in demand today than ever before. But how do you design a space where the technology is actually the key element of the overall immersive experience?

Commercial Interior Design tours Orbi Dubai, a virtual wildlife park, collaboratively developed by Japanese technology and video-game company Sega and BBC Worldwide.

Promoted as a “supercharged indoor nature experience”, Orbi fuses BBC Earth’s content with Sega’s technological innovation, using laser-projected visual images and videos.

Orbi was initially founded in Yokohama, Japan in 2013. Dubai-based Bluehaus Group (its interior design and MEP engineering divisions) was appointed to implement and develop the original concept for Orbi Dubai in City Center Mirdif, its first location outside of Japan.

“From the moment Bluehaus Group was invited to bid on this project, we were excited,” comments Ben Corrigan, founder of Bluehau Group. “We knew this was going to be something special and wanted to be involved. The end-result has far exceeded our expectations, and this is a testament to the collaborative approach by the Majid Al Futtaim team (MAF) and all involved to deliver what is a highly complex and technical project. MAF has a reputation for pushing the boundaries and taking the lead in this region; this undertaking is a testament to MAF’s progressive and ambitious approach.”

Spanning 5,228m2, Orbi Dubai features 12 different exhibits and interactive walk-through touchpoints.

Using laser-projected visual images, three-dimensional directional sound, smells, wind, fog, and lighting effects, the “Theatre 23.4” production stimulates the senses to create an experience that replicates the reality of being among nature.

Emily Wong, technical design manager at Bluehaus Group, tells CID, that the space planning was crucial for the project in order to get the visitors flow right. The team worked closely with both Sega and MAF.

“Orbi is conceptualised to offer an amazing digital experience for its visitors and the entire space revolves around interactive technology,” says Wong. “The space is designed for people of all generations and different walks of life to share their fascination with nature and Orbi will astound them.

As Wong explains, facilitating the movement of people from one area to another may “sound simple”, but a lot of thought has been put into designing directional graphics to orientate people within the space.

The design is, as she explains, here to support the overall visitor experience.

“Most of the elements were designed to suit the technology,” says Wong.

Being located in the City Centre Mirdif and adjacent to the iFly centre, one of the fundamental issues the design team had to solve were the acoustics.

“The acoustic design criteria proposed for this project were assessed by Design Confidence, using a holistic approach to providing an excellent standard of acoustic report, comfort, privacy and speech intelligibility to comply with the highest international design standards,” she adds.

The team, together with Bluehaus Group, created a double glazing to seal the area on the mezzanine floor so that sound did not transmit from the nearby Magic Planet arcade into Orbi.

Wong continues: “The walls in all the attractions are rated at a minimum 55dB and as high as 72dB. All walls are specifically detailed to suit, and fully enclosed spaces are calculated for the right reverberation time according to the volume, surface area and absorptive materials of the room.”

A mass barrier ceiling was designed to prevent noise being transmitted to the open area of the project and to incorporate all MEP and engineering work for each attraction. The MEP equipment inside the mass barrier was carefully chosen regarding noise emissions, and all penetrations were sealed with close attention to detail.

Through the black entrance tunnel sits a giant interactive screen (15m long and 5m high), featuring life-size visuals of animal shapes. Six stations are positioned in front of the screen with directional sound targeting each as the scanner tracks the movement of the guest at each station. The ‘experience’ called Animal Pedia allows visitors to virtually reach out to an animal on screen and it responds with pop-up facts.

The next exhibition space, the Earth Palette, is a 360-degree visual treat with a wealth of images of animals, landscapes and plants in a spectrum of colours. Guests place an item of colour on to a table in the middle of the room. A camera reads the colour item, and scenes from nature in that colour fills the wall with 2.5m high imagery.

At the heart of Orbi lays Base Camp, a projection mapping to exhibit images captured by BBC Earth on to walls and a standalone sculpture. The sculpture changes character to represent different animals, which interact with visitors when touched.

“The material choice was crucial for this project. Many of the surfaces that videos are projected on are, in fact, soft,” explains Wong.

She adds that furniture pieces are specially designed for Orbi, including organic-shaped benches that are placed in the main area and one of the theatres. All carpet design was done in collaboration with Sega to ensure that the theme is in line with the original concept design.

“The lighting, by Acoulite, was designed with RGB to change colour and is digitally controlled to interface with the different settings and sculpture in each attraction,” she says.

Orbi Dubai’s centre piece is a 35-metres wide screen, which plays custom-made BBC Earth Films, augmented by two massive screens behind the viewers to create a 360-degree, fully immersive experience.

Commenting on the technology, Wong says that the theatre also boasts 3D sound as well as technology that generates wind, fog, vibrations and even smells.

She says: “LED lighting was designed to change to match the experience on the screen. The location of projectors, screens, networked speakers and other effects were identified by SEGA and interpreted by Bluehaus Engineering for the MEP requirements.”

Wong further explains that an extensive collaboration and coordination between SEGA, Bluehaus Engineering and Bluehaus Group was key in making sure the functionality was achieved without sacrificing the design of each space.

“There were two main challenges that we encountered,” Wong continues. “Air distribution such that it does not interfere with the effects (fog) and fire alarms such that neither life safety nor the audience experience is sacrificed. In the two main theatres, we designed displacement ventilation to prevent air-movement from interfering with the fog effects.”

In terms of MEP challenges, Wong mentions that all engineering was required to be hidden and that design had to taken into consideration so as not to interfere with projections. From the heat of the Dubai desert, in one of the rooms, visitors can experience the chilling temperatures of Mount Kenya at -25°C.

The Sega technology used in Orbi minimises power consumption and cooling across specific exhibits within the facility, which in turn reduces energy consumption across the board.

All materials were carefully selected to ensure that the “green environment” is observed to LEED accreditation.

“This is an incredibly exciting experience and a project we feel proud to have been involved in,” concludes Wong.