International Class: From Ningbo to Venice, new cinemas make a splash


As the global exhibition industry gathers at CinemaCon, it has become a tradition for our annual cinema “Class” to focus on international studies as well. Film Journal International is particularly proud to showcase some masterful designs from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Karachi, Pakistan, from Mestre, Italy, and Istanbul, Turkey, to Ningbo in the People’s Republic of China.

Opening our review with another stunningly modern yet masterfully classic design from one of our regular instructors, James Law, we can attest that the Kowloon, Hong Kong-based “Cybertect” and his team certainly know how to make an entrance. Launching one year ago (in April 2013), the Broadway Cinema in Ningbo boasts seven screens and 1,153 seats on 3,100 square meters (33,400 sq. ft.) of what the firm proudly calls “innovative design.” Charles Chu, director and senior Cybertect and project leader in the design division says the idea behind “the giant mechanical abstracted ‘Robotic Spider’ of mechanized elements” sitting above the ticketing and welcoming center was to create “an exciting entertainment space through exploring the elements of construction of this ‘Machine Space.’ We wanted to produce a large-scale ‘Maker’ movement-inspired interior design that reflects both Asian sensibility and the appreciation of the complexities of industrial design.”

Addressing the cultural aspect first, Chu says, the term “Maker” means that “we try to be the first creator to bring mechanical movement and mechanized aesthetics into contemporary interior design for cinemas, which is not dissimilar to old temples and traditional buildings. We also wanted to symbolize Asia’s industrial production by expressing the robotic nature of this spider.” This method of creating space “has rarely been done so far in Asian projects,” Chu observes. “The Asian ‘Maker’ sensitivity of aesthetics to reveal the construction methodology and geometry in its architecture and interiors is evident here.”

The admittedly complex-looking geometry in creating this eight-meter-tall (26-foot) construct “necessitated the use of industrial-design software packages,” Chu explains. “Traditional architectural programs were unable to deal with complexity of this kind. The whole project was visualized through hundreds of mock spaces that were modeled in the computer and walked through in order to resolve the ‘Robotic Spider.’”

Many moviegoers have since walked passed it as well. “This venue has become the talk of Ningbo city. We certainly hope this will lead to further commercial successful for Broadway Theatre Company, as well as become an inspiration to the ‘Maker’ movement by seeing and experiencing this design in a real-life entertainment setting.”

Nonetheless, Chu believes that chain-type designs are most favored in the cinema marketplace, “due to the built-in cost and time efficiency that not only minimizes the design period and construction time, but also keeps the construction budget in line.” Chain-type or showcasing more of a maker’s mark, more theatres will be built across China, and hopefully on budget, Chu confirms. In terms of new trends, “a VIP house with 20 to 25 seats and lounge is now becoming a standard in most cinema theatres,” he says.

David Mesbur, design partner at Toronto, Canada-based Mesbur+Smith Architects, confirms the trend and immediately provides an example from his work from around the world. Last November, “Luxor Entertainment opened their newest 1,500-seat, nine-screen cinema, which includes one VIP screen, as their flagship location in a shopping center in St. Petersburg.” Added amenities go beyond the screen, however. “The auditoriums were already under construction when we took over the project,” he explains. “Our role was to develop the lobby design and the design of two themed restaurants of 2,500 square feet each [232 sq. m], which are an integral part of the complex. Luxor also operates the ‘Red Bean’ Café, a branded coffee shop which is included within the lobby.”

To assure inclusion within the existing shopping center in Baku, Azerbaijan, after its construction on the roof of an existing multi-story parking garage, the six-screen Metropark multiplex was connected by a bridge to the sixth floor of the center. “Although the footprint of the second location for Park Cinemas is very small” [15,000 sq. ft., 1,394 sq. m], Mesbur states, “we accommodated over 1,000 seats and an intimate café seating 75 people. This efficiency was achieved by eliminating the projection booth and suspending the Barco digital projectors in the rear of the auditoriums. This enabled us to add at least two rows of seating in each cinema. It is the first ‘booth-less’ cinema in Azerbaijan.”

Living up to its name, the “nueplex” also boasts several firsts, albeit for the city of Karachi and country of Pakistan. “This freestanding building is the first completed project for Nue Entertainment,” Mesbur details. “The five cinemas, ranging from 148 to 360 seats, accommodate 1,100 people, including a 48-seat VIP screen with separate lounge. This project boasts the three largest screens in Pakistan, and is the first all-4K 3D Christie digital cinema in the country. The ground floor of the building includes a ‘thrill-ride’ center with an 80-foot drop tower, a food court, skating rink and daycare center. The cinemas are located on the second floor, accessed by escalators and elevators.”

To get to the six beautiful new screens of IMG Piazza Candiani (opened Dec. 12), the capacity crowd of 1,600 won’t need a boat nor water taxi, not even a car for that matter. Located right in the heart of the city of Mestre, which is the part of Venice located on the Italian mainland, the European member of our “Class of 2013” is a timely representative of how the Old World has been trying to define its own multiscreen traditions over the past ten years. Always hesitant about green-field developments and protective of keeping their historic city cores alive, Europeans have created many examples of cineplexes suitable for cities large and towns small.

Like the best of them, Piazza Candiani teaches us about “the idea of creating, or re-creating, meeting places at the center of the town’s life.” (We are gratefully working from a translation of a column by Francesca Mesiano in DGT online informer no. 100 provided by our friends at Milan, Italy-based MEDIA Salles. A related report about the activities of the cinema exhibition support agency appeared in February’s “European Update.") This “counter-trend” to expansion towards the outside of a town is reflected in the architecture as well. First off, this city plex, developed as an entirely new building by the Furlan Group, was integrated into the existing and completely restructured municipal Centro Culturale. Local architect Giovanni Caprioglio took inspiration from the world of cinema itself, he says, by covering the outside of the building with a 10 by 18-meter sheet (33 by 60 feet). In his view, projecting the screen-like surface with multi-colored lights is “a metaphor for the cinema expanding outwards and towards the city.”

Inside the auditoriums, however, “the objective…to amaze” as columnist Mesiano sees it, remains all about “the use of avant-garde technology and the idea of ‘immersive cinema,’ where the audience is involved and surrounded by sound and images in an entirely new way.” IMG Piazza Candiani is the first cinema in Italy to have a Barco 4K laser-illuminated projector in place. Mesiano describes to MEDIA Salles how this Cinecloud Lux, as produced by Cinemeccanica, “yields a brighter picture and 30% more luminosity compared to the most advanced digital projectors available. But the leading role in giving the cinema its ‘multidimensional’ feature is certainly played by the innovative Dolby Atmos audio system.” The technology is installed in three of the IMG auditoriums, “even mounted above the audience [with] up to 64 independent speaker outputs.”

Also sounding off with three Dolby Atmos systems each, and Sony 4K projection all around, technology at the two 2013 sites of Istanbul, Turkey-based CINEMApink “practically doesn’t get any better than that,” asserts Oliver Pasch, sales director, digital cinema, at Sony Europe. Pasch also believes “the pictures speak for themselves. All their screens are thoroughbred VIP cinemas: What happens elsewhere in select auditoriums at a surcharge is the de-facto standard at CINEMApink. We are delighted to partner with them to help build on a great reputation in the Turkish market… It’s simply a perfect match between what Sony 4K means and what CINEMApink delivers to their audiences, which is a premium cinema experience.”

In another perfect match, Carine Sener, the wife of CINEMApink owner and chief executive officer Serdar Sener, defines what that experience looks like, together with product designer Haldun Ozkurt. Heading up her own architecture and design firm at Zeppelin 34, Carine feels that “our cinemas are breaking stereotypes in the cinema market, not only in Turkey but also worldwide. Our approach is both conceptual and socially driven. Cinema and design for me are inseparable. And an end-user-directed design makes spaces socially and therefore commercially successful.”

This is why CINEMApink wants to be a “Social Cinema Club,” she adds. “Customers come to us to spend their time; to socialize; to indulge themselves lounging on the soft couches, by reading a book from our library with a cup of coffee and cake, all the while listening to jazz music and much more. Most of our cinema locations have coffee shops, some also feature licensed bars for beer, wine and drinks. Each one of our cinema centers is unique and designed with a deep understanding of local neighborhoods, as we are a preferred partner of shopping center developments. Nearly everything at CINEMApink—from wall coverings to furniture and lighting—is of custom design. Our cinema chairs are upholstered in genuine leather and extremely comfortable.” Nearly 70% are double love seats while offering 140 cm of row spacing (55 inches).

In spite of that impressive list, she assures, “we are constantly improving our concepts with a singular focus on the unique atmosphere and social aspect of our venues. Simply put, CINEMApink’s mission is to provide far more to cinema lovers.”

CINEMApink Etiler Akmerkez, the first of two members of the “Class of 2013” (eight screens, 550 seats, opened in December), is a case in point of differentiation. “We designed special balconies with a separate entrance so that celebrities who come there can remain unnoticed.” Picking up on Pasch’s earlier comments, Sener explains the difference. “We do not like to say that they are VIP, because all of our cinemas halls are equipped to VIP standard.”

After Demirören İstiklal (six screens, 500 seats) opened its designer doors, Sony and CINEMApink also agreed to equip all 113 of the circuit’s screens with 4K digital projection systems and theatre management systems. The agreement also includes the installation of 25 Sony Digital Cinema 3D systems. Sony’s accredited solutions specialists at dcinex were selected for the installation and technical support of this rollout.

Closing out this month’s attendance roll call, we return from Istanbul to Piazza Candiani in Mestre. Expressing her feelings about the IMG cinemas there, MEDIA Salles’ Mesiano also provides a fitting remark about the past ten and many more years of cinema design to come. All good development “focuses on bringing new life, not only to cinemagoing in the city but also—by making the most of the potential offered by new technology—to the movie theatre as the place for a unique and all-involving experience."