In the late 1990's, Sony was unstoppable. Their stock was soaring, they sat on vast reserves of capital, they had made major moves in the music/film sectors, and Playstation was dominating video games.
This was the height of their brand power, and they wanted to show it.
Similar to concepts like DisneyQuest (the focus of my last design thread), there was a push in the 90s to bring theme park-like interactivity and theming to consumer spaces in major cities around the world. Sony wanted in.
Their concept - Metreon, nestled in the heart of SF.
The Metreon was a four-story goliath of a complex, designed to house retail, dining, tech showcases, entertainment, and a massive Sony Theater IMAX/multiplex - ultimately standing as a glittering showcase for a more "sophisticated" Sony brand.
The exterior of the building demonstrates a lot of the same design principles, showcased in the DisneyQuest building - utopian, gleaming, and designed to inspire both awe and a sense of playfulness with its contours and cool "digital" colors.
The main hall of the Metreon was filled w/ massive swept tri/quad forms, channeling the eye to focus on the sheer size of the naturally-lit space. Huge "leaves", like clouds, hung overhead, and the light hardwood & metal created natural color contrast w/ blue light from outdoors
One such original game - Hyperbowl - was a hit, becoming popular enough to spawn a small franchise. Its colorful and goofy aesthetic clashed with the rest of the arcade - ironic, as it outlived everything else inside it.
The theming was a loving tribute to Moebius's work - Malvina, the mysterious icon of the Airtight Garage graphic novel, was featured throughout art and signage, and electronic setpieces modeled after fantastic machinery brought the space to life.
The Airtight Garage wasn't the only place to play the Metreon offered - a similarly lavish area, dedicated to the work of children's author Maurice Sendak, let guests explore the worlds of Where The Wild Things Are and The Night Kitchen.
The connected Night Kitchen area (a shame there aren't any higher-res photos) was a dining area styled after the book, with a beautifully painted dusky sky and "restaurants" in a kid-sized city where they could take their food and eat. (the food, allegedly, wasn't very good).
These spaces focused on immersion and physical interaction, something that Sendak (right) insisted upon during development. He loved the finished result - but the ensuing feud he had with Sony over selling merchandise with his characters ended their working relationship.
Sadly, images of the third Metreon entertainment attraction - an animatronic live show based on David Macaulay's "The Way Things Work" - are sparse. The show featured "Melvin 2000", who "talked" to audience members via a cast member controlling him. Here's some concept art.
Surprisingly, even Microsoft had a presence at the Metreon - their first ever retail space, a pilot store called microsoftSF. This store was used for product launches, as well as to demo new tech like mobile Windows; visually, it's an interesting bridge between 98 and XP era MS.
This particular shot embodies those late 90s techno optimistic utopianism similar to DisneyQuest. How cool must it have been to build actual touch screen "windows" with Windows, with that sort of ephemeral luminescent lighting and 90s techno collage art?
Bandai opened a space in the Metreon, coordinated with its early 2000s push to help Gundam succeed in America. Bandai and Sony even collaborated on several anime festivals and cosplay contests, making the Metreon a true fixture for the SF anime community.
The true heart of the Metreon was its movie theater - initially, operated by Sony. Its lobby, paying tribute to classic film with colorful theming, led way to 16 screens and the first IMAX in SF. The IMAX theater got its own theming, dressed heavy in late 90s purple/teal/black.
The Metreon was remarkable in that all of its tenants were thematically UNIFIED. Technology enabling discovery through education and media was omnipresent - whether it be books being brought to life, new tech making new things possible, or a film reaching several stories tall.
The Metreon cost $85 MILLION - costs that Sony hoped to offset w/ retail purchases as the theater drew crowds. The foot traffic came, but sales didn't, due to high prices - a symptom of Sony's broader strategic failings throughout the 2000s.
Meanwhile, as Sony's ventures in the movie theater market struggled on the whole, Sony Theaters was spun down, and the Metreon theater was sold to Loews (later to AMC). This meant that the biggest revenue stream at the complex was no longer Sony owned, hastening its demise.
In a floundering attempt to keep the now largely vacant but mammoth space occupied, Sony opened the "Walk of Game", an attempt at a Hollywood walk of fame for the games industry, in 2006. It was low budget, tiny, and dated looking at its reveal, and it never gained traction.
Aah I visited at the beginning of the Loews era and I remember thinking there was all this swoopy architecture and space for a coupla techbro stores and a good theater. It was really neat and pretty tho.
Super minor correction: the first year of Walk of Fame was 2005. Unrelated, here's a TV feature I produced at a DDR tournament in one of the Metreon's smaller private event spaces youtube.com/watch?v=aHxRvE…
In 2012, the vast majority of the building space was remodeled into a Target. The remaining space was turned into a large food court (with some places that are admittedly pretty good). Almost all of the original interior design has been replaced.
The only true holdover from the halcyon days of the Metreon is the theater, now owned by AMC. Its original theming is still mostly intact, albiet decaying and out of context, making the particularly powerful IMAX theming feel a bit incongruous.
One other ghost of the Metreon still remains - the ground floors and walls were filled with bits and pieces of old Sony devices, microchips, etc. Small patches, like this one inside Super Duper Burger, have survived.
I like to think that somebody recognized them as artifacts.
This marketing reel talks about Sony's marketing strategies regarding the Metreon. It's really amazing how wholeheartedly people believed in this sort of concept (and how the logic behind it seemed sound).
Wow, nostalgia for the Metreon is a new idea. So, OK, maybe we didn't respect what it was at the time. Going back a bit farther, the Metreon replaced the core of San Francisco's residential hotel district. bit.ly/2xlPisl