From afar, the Home Planet Zone's dark blue shell resembles a grounded flying saucer. Doubtless this futuristic effect was intentional, as the Zone is essentially a simulated spaceflight theme ride.
Cited as a 'world-first composite structure' and unconventionally finished in a sparkling metalflake 'jewelled' gel-coat, the self-supporting shell is 33m in diameter and 9m high. It is formed of 32 segments, made of state of the art glass fibre reinforced resin skins on a balsawood core.
This sandwich has a maximum thickness of 50mm, creating a lightweight structure supported on the concrete pavement without specific foundations.
At the heart of the structure a semi-circular steel mezzanine, 3.5m high and approximately 18m by 9m in plan, houses several separate exhibitions. The mezzanine is in turn flanked by a revolving platform mounted with inward facing seating. This offers the passengers a gentle ride, viewing each exhibition in turn.
The Zone's design evolution proved to be more of a roller coaster, however. 'The scheme changed, time and time again,' explains Buro Happold project engineer Andrew Best, who received the Home Planet brief in May 1998.
Buro Happold completed the conceptual design and foundation design. Detailed design for the superstructure, including the steel mezzanine, was carried out by Kimpton Walker. Much of the structure was complete by June 1999.
'The stop-start process was frustrating for everyone,' continues Best, 'but a good education for the NMEC, sponsors, designers, architects and engineers on the importance of communication.'
Shell: Mouchel and Upstage Composite
Designers: Park Avenue
Architects: Fletcher Priest
Structural and services engineers: Buro Happold
Main Contractor: Kimpton Walker