As if Times Square wasn't crowded enough already, Toys “R” Us opened a new 110,000-sq.-ft. flagship store on the corner of 44th and Broadway last November, adding another major retail venue to this hot urban entertainment destination. As much a mini-theme park as a retail store, the newest Toys “R” Us combines the talents of many different companies, from designers to scene shops. As such, it would be impossible to interview all of them within the confines of this article, which offers a brief overview of the store and its basic design elements.

Designed by Gensler, a New York City-based architecture firm, with design vision and scenic coordination by Joanne Newbold of J. Newbold Associates in New York City, the new Toys “R” Us venue combines two former theatres, creating a voluminous, column-free space. Slicing through the three-story structure is a 60'-tall Ferris wheel that serves as a kinetic icon for the store. It looks out over themed areas that range from a walk-in Barbie® dollhouse to a life-sized version of the Candy Land board game, to a mini-Jurassic Park, and a World's Fair exhibit area used to launch new toys.

Construction of the store was handled by F.J. Sciame of New York City, with Marc Heiman serving as project manager. Big Show Construction Management was hired by Sciame and Toys “R” Us to manage the installation of the themed areas in the store. “Most of the themed areas were supplied by the toy vendors, such as Mattel and Hasbro, or companies that have a line of toys to sell, including Universal Studios,” explains Rod Hickey, the Manhattan-based project manager for Big Show.

“All in all, I think we ended up with 26 design firms, 22 scene shops, and five installation contractors [see credits box, page 22], as well as five different electrical contractors and over 250 electricians. The exhibits ranged from small ‘drop in place’ kiosks to the T-Rex, which required that we leave part of the side of the building off to load in and additional steel structure for support,” Hickey says.

The animatronic T-Rex, who stands guard on an inclined ramp at the entrance to Jurassic Park, was built by Advanced Animations in Vermont. “He stands 18' to 20' over the floor, depending on what his head is doing,” explains Mark Miller of Advanced Animations. T-Rex has multiple motion options, from the head moving up and down, right and left, and rocking back and forth to the jaws opening and closing, the eyes moving in their sockets, elbows and wrists moving up and down, and the tail moving back and forth. “There are also a couple of moves to lower the head, with a pivot behind the head and one lower in the neck,” adds Miller.

T-Rex also roars (to the delight of many shoppers), with JBL subwoofer and full-range G2 series loudspeakers in the base and a horn and amp as a point source for the head. The dinosaur's skin is made of molded silicone. Advanced Animations also built the animatronic ET figure and his hanging spaceship, which has fluorescent landing lights with diffusers for a soft, cool look. As Miller puts it, “We went for a low-heat, long-lamp-life solution that is easy on maintenance.”

The work of all the various designers, shops, and installers of the scenery, as well as the media systems for the store, was coordinated by Big Show. The firm began work in July, with just a four-month install before the opening day on November 17, but many of the scenic shops had a head start on the work.

Exterior photo: Paul Warchol

“We were also coordinating the delivery and installation dates of all the areas with the contractors so the base building was as close to complete as possible before the themed areas arrived,” notes Hickey. “This was one of the biggest challenges, especially with the September 11 disaster tossed into the equation. Because the structure of Toys ‘R’ Us deals with manufacturers, there were also many areas where the exhibit was supplied by multiple shops, and there were also pieces of the exhibit built by the building contractors onsite.”

The entire store has been cleverly designed as a marketing canvas for toy manufacturers, with some unusual advertising media available to them. First are a series of oversized Pro-Motion scrollers manufactured by Diazit® Company, known for its blueprint machines. The giant scrollers are placed on the inside of the glass panels that create the facade of the building on both Broadway and 44th Street.

The Pro-Motion scroller is actually a 6' × 5' light box (with fluorescent backlighting) that can display as many as 25 individual images, or scrolling frames, in a single sign. The frames are printed on a polyester scroll that can be advanced consecutively in either scroll direction, or they can be displayed consecutively and rewound to the beginning and displayed again. In the case of Toys “R” Us, there are a total of 165 frames that create a giant billboard.

“The architects asked if we could use an LED display or video monitors that moved out of the way to reveal the interior of the store,” notes Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting in Manhattan, principal lighting designer for the project. The Diazit system provides a good solution to this design challenge, as the frames can be reprinted and replaced as often as desired.

Another marketing support is the 9'-high × 48'-wide curved interactive LED display by SmartVision of Ossining, NY, that juts out over the sidewalk on Broadway between 44th and 45th Streets and faces both uptown and downtown. The display can be used to tie into the images on the scrollers, announce special activities, or even show movie trailers for films that have merchandising tie-ins.

The Ferris Wheel

Not only a great attraction for kids of all ages, the Toys “R” Us Ferris wheel is also a branding opportunity for toy companies. The 14 themed cars on the Ferris wheel were built by Entech Creative Industries in Orlando, FL, and sponsored by various manufacturers. The colorful cars capture the essence of popular characters and toys, including: Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head; Buzz Lightyear; Woody, Jessie, and an alien from Toy Story 2; Barbie®; Mega®Bloks Taxi; Cabbage Patch Kids Camp Bus; Tonka® Trucks; Geoffrey and ET; Lil' Snoopy; Matchbox® Fire Truck; Mr. Monopoly®; Nickelodeon Zany Zapper; Pokémon; M&Ms; and Cozy Coupe® Car.

“The Ferris wheel creates a new tradition for kids in New York City. It's safe and it's fun,” says Anne Herzog, president of Entech, who points out that the idea was that of Joanne Newbold, who wanted to create a large, recognizable icon. Proceeds from the ticket price to ride the Ferris wheel go to the not-for-profit Toys “R” Us Children's Fund. “The view from the Ferris wheel is great and you can see how amazing the store really is,” says Herzog. The Cabbage Patch gondola meets ADA requirements and guests in wheelchairs can roll right into the car.

Ferris wheel photo: courtesy Focus Lighting

The steel armature for the Ferris wheel came from the Italia Company in Italy. Entech custom-designed the gondolas, using steel and aluminum frames with the toy characters first carved in foam, then covered with a shell of fiberglass that is sanded, smoothed, and given a hard coat of paint. “There are 47 different paint colors on the Toy Story car,” says Herzog.

In-Store Lighting

The lighting for the Ferris wheel was designed by Diane Ades of Focus Lighting, and includes 200 neon chevrons made by Entech, 420' of LED strips by Tokistar Lighting, and 14 customized DMX-controlled star strobes by Diversitronics to create extra sparkle. Sepp Spenlinhauer, also of Focus Lighting, worked out the complicated sequencing of the neon, using a special opto-isolated gate switch to avoid the extra weight of magnetic transformers and remote dimmers. An Entertainment Technology Horizon playback controller that spins along with the wheel itself controls the lighting for the Ferris wheel. This is one of four Horizon PBC units and eight universes of DMX used to control all the lighting in the store.

In addition to the ambient architectural lighting, there is a second layer of highly theatrical lighting that adds visual interest to the merchandise areas on the upper level. Tucked under bright blue and amber vaulted ceilings are catwalks that allow access to the theatrical fixtures. They also serve as lighting positions for a rig that includes 143 Altman Shakespeare 575 ellipsoidals, 25 Altman Star-Pars, 21 Wybron CXI color mixers, and 33 Wybron Forerunner color changers. These fixtures are used to light the themed scenic elements throughout the store.

In keeping with the fast and furious pace of the whole Toys “R” Us project, Altman Lighting was given little time to perform on this job. “We had a deadline of three weeks to deliver 59 custom pieces of power distribution for the theatrical lighting,” says Robert Kliegl, national sales manager for Altman Lighting. “Each piece was very different, with different wiring and circuit layout; essentially, each piece was custom.” Focus Lighting designed the distribution in four lengths of 8', 16, 24', and 36' and each had different circuiting and connector layout depending where in the store they were required. “We ended up rebuilding about eight strips due to site conditions that arose during the installation process,” says Kliegl. “When Focus got onsite, they found areas where ducts or beams would not allow the distribution to mount correctly, so we rebuilt those pieces.” Altman was providing partial shipments as the connector strips came out of manufacturing, so the electrical contractor could keep working along. “The whole project was fast with all of the around-the-clock work,” Kliegl concludes. “We shipped our entire fixture package within two days of Focus Lighting's approval.”

The automated segment of the rig includes five Martin Professional MAC 250 profile spot fixtures and five MAC 300 wash fixtures, used to add patterns and movement to such scenic elements as the Barbie house, and soft-edged projection screens in the World's Fair area. The color palette throughout echoes the Toys “R” Us signature colors of red, yellow, blue, green, pink, and orange that show up in different shades from zone to zone.

“The theatrical lighting is reserved for the themed elements, like T-Rex and the facade of the Barbie house,” explains Ades. “Each of these areas has its own requirements and the theatrical fixtures gave us more flexibility.”

Barbie™ Ferris wheel car photo courtesy Entech

Audio-Visual Systems

In addition to the sophisticated lighting system in the store, there is a complex set of audio-visual systems in place. These systems were designed and are operated by the New York City-based Show & Tell Productions, and were specified, supplied, installed, and integrated by Scharff Weisberg, also based in Manhattan. “Toys ‘R’ Us wanted as much of a Wow! factor as possible,” says Philip Lenger, lead producer for Show & Tell. “They knew that video is a hot trend in theme parks and retail venues today.”

The storewide video system is designed to be as flexible as possible, with a variety of plasma screens and monitors, from Panasonic 27" Pro CTR monitors, Sony 8", 13", and 20" monitors, and Fujitsu 42" plasma screens, that do not overshadow the merchandise. Everything in the store, including lighting, audio, video, the Diazit scrollers, and even T-Rex's roar, are driven by Show & Tell's custom SQL server. There are three control engines: one for the window scrolls, one for the LED sign on the exterior and one for master playback.

“The master playback engine is like show control for a theme park attraction,” explains Lenger. “It sends MIDI or DMX or RS232, or whatever protocol is needed, to the various devices. Our systems speak all of these languages.” The video systems alone can have up to 60 simultaneous video streams to the more than 100 screens throughout the store. Show & Tell can also feed live video from outside the store onto the screens, or feed live video from inside the store onto the SmartVision LED screen outside, as the store is designed as a live broadcast facility with capacity for state-of-the-art digital cameras.

Once the video systems were designed, the equipment was specified, integrated, and installed by Scharff Weisberg. Principal Josh Weisberg confirms that “the infrastructure was built to be flexible. The wiring is in place so that we can move the screens and monitors as new toys are brought into different areas.” Plasma screens were given priority over conventional video monitors as “you can't beat the footprint,” explains Weisberg.

One of the most interesting features of the video system is the addition of an individual hard drive, the Adtec digital edje MPEG player, on the back of every plasma screen and video monitor in the store. Each edje unit can store up to several hours of video that is sent from the central control room, as all of the hard drives are on one large network. There are no videotapes and no DVDs used for image playback.

The in-store audio system includes 177 Bose® 32SE surface-mount loudspeakers, 32 Bose 32 flush-mount loudspeakers, six Bose FreeSpace® 3 bass modules, 27 Bose 302A loudspeakers, two Bose 802-II loudspeakers, and four Bose AM-5 Satellite speakers. Fourteen Bose M-2150 power amplifiers and seven Bose 1800-VI power amplifiers that are stored in two Lowell L60-61 equipment racks drive the loudspeakers. Charles Crane, senior field engineer for Bose Professional Systems Division, designed the speaker system, while Scott Reilly served as the Bose project manager for equipment installation.

“Our responsibility was the playback portion of the system, while Scharff Weisberg handled the source, mixing, and routing aspects of the system,” Crane says. “The project was split based on expertise and available resources.” Playback is via five Roland eight-track digital audio recorders, with a Peavey MediaMatrix system to route the audio.

Toys “R” Us is more than your typical retail toy box. It's also a mini-theme park, a television broadcast facility, and a true combination of design and technology adding a strong entertainment element to a retail venue.

Toys “R” Us Project Credits

Architect: Gensler, Design & Planning Worldwide
Concept designer: J. Newbold Associates
Lighting Designer: Focus Lighting
Audio/Visual Technology Design: Show & Tell Productions
Audio/Visual Installation: Scharff Weisberg
Window Scroll System: Diazit
Themed Scenic Supervision: Big Show
Construction: F.J. Sciame
Ferris Wheel and Specialty Design:

THEMED SCENIC AREAS AT TOYS “R” US:

BARBIE DOLLHOUSE
(exterior & interior)
Client: Toys “R” Us
Design: Joanne Newbold Associates
Build: Entech
Installation: Entech/Enterprise 23

BOB THE BUILD
Client: Hasbro
Design: Falcon Perspectives
Build: Folio
Installation: Falcon Perspectives

BIRTHDAY CITY
Client: American Greetings
Design: American Greetings
Build: American Greetings
Installation: Enterprise 23

CABBAGE PATCH
Client: Toys “R” Us
Design: Joanne Newbold Associates
Build: Entech
Installation: Enterprise 23

PEPSI CAFE
Client: Pepsi
Design: FRHS
Build: Exhibit Groups and Project Eye
Installation: Exhibit Groups

CANDY LAND
Client: Toys “R” Us
Design: Joanne Newbold Associates
Build: Advanced Animations
Installation: Enterprise 23

T-REX
Client: Universal Studios
Design: Gensler Santa Monica
Build: Advanced Animations
Installation: Enterprise 23

JURASSIC PARK
Client: Universal Studios
Design: Gensler Santa Monica
Build: Adirondack Scenic
Installation: Enterprise 23

ET/ET SPACESHIP
Client: Universal Studios
Design: Joanne Newbold Associates
Build: Advanced Animations
Installation: Enterprise 23

FISHER-PRICE
Client: Mattel
Design: Structural Display
Build: Structural Display
Installation: Enterprise 23

GAMES
Client: Hasbro
Design: BLI
Build: Enterprise 23
Installation: Enterprise 23

HOBERMAN SPHERES
Client: Hoberman Associates
Design: Hoberman Associates
Build: Hoberman Associates
Installation: Enterprise 23

HOT WHEELS
Client: Mattel
Design: Scenery West (with elements by Technifex)
Build: Scenery West
Installation: Enterprise 23

K-NEX
Client: K-Nex
Design: Design ETC
Build: Constructive Display
Installation: Durant Construction

LINCOLN LOGS
Client: K-Nex
Design: Design ETC
Build: Constructive Display
Installation: Durant Construction

LEAP FROG
Client: Leap Frog Enterprises
Design: Hood Exhibits
Build: Hood Exhibits
Installation: Enterprise 23

LEGO
Client: Lego
Design: Monastero & Associates
Build: MC2
Installation: MC2

MARVIN THE MAGICIAN
Client: Marvin Berglas
Design: Big Show
Build: Big Show
Installation: Enterprise 23

MEGA BLOKS
Client: Mega Bloks Montreal
Design: Les Creation B&M
Build: Les Creation B&M
Installation: Enterprise 23

NICKELODEON
Client: Nickelodeon
Design: C2 Creative
Build: MC2
Installation: MC2

PLAYSTATION
Client: Sony
Design: Pinnacle Design
Build: Shout Creative
Installation: Enterprise 23

XBOX
Client: Microsoft
Design: DCI
Build: Derse Exhibits
Installation: Imagicorps

NINTENDO
Client: Nintendo North America
Design: Imagicorps
Build: Imagicorps
Installation: Imagicorps

WORLD'S FAIR
Client: Toys “R” Us
Design: Exhibits International
Build: Exhibits International
Installation: Enterprise 23

ANIMAL PLANET
Client: Toys “R” Us
Design: Focus Lighting
Build: Big Show
Installation: Enterprise 23

SHARK ATTACK
Client: Interact Accessories
Design: Folio
Build: Folio
Installation: Enterprise 23

INTEL
Client: Intel
Design: RTC
Build: RTC
Installation: Enterprise 23

RACING CHAMPIONS
Client: Racing Champions
Design: Racing Champions
Build: Racing Champions
Installation: Enterprise 23

LEGO-MINDSTORM
Client: Lego
Design: Monastero & Associates
Build: MC2
Installation: MC2

THOMAS THE TRAIN
Client: Adex International
Design: Adex International
Build: Adex International
Installation: Enterprise 23

CASIO
Client: Casio
Design: Loran Associates
Build: Loran Associates
Installation: Loran Associates