The Sky_2049 is the Limit Written by Becky Richards

Tūrei 19 Tīhema

Tuesday 19 December


For the last several months, my partner has been obsessively building a miniature entertainment complex near our rotary washing line. Our inaccurate gas oven has borne numerous test samples and supported the eventual manufacture of prefabricated construction panels. A residual egg white tackiness still coats our cupboard handles. I don’t really mind, when confronted with an artistic vision of such magnitude, one must accept the sticky path of progress.

Designed and owned by JJHH Holdings, the ground-breaking SKY WORLD 2049 is painstakingly crafted from various seeds, dried fruits, binding ingredients, acrylic sheets, timber, a clunky laptop, a large systema tub, metres of various cord, and a webcam. It’s a structure within a structure - the seed-coated activity hub is nestled inside the penthouse apartment suite of a precarious wooden A-frame - thus protected from the elements, but exposed to the advances of avian consumers. An intriguing proposition, SKY WORLD 2049 boasts an appealing alfresco location beside our Sandringham ex-state rental house.

On opening day, the complex debuted multiple escalators cutting diagonal lines skyward, a conical lift, and a confounding labyrinth of crisp seed panels (indicating myriad discrete activity zones), accessible (sometimes) to remote viewers via a dedicated Twitch stream. Post-opening, a new forecourt of chequered tiles soon appeared, alternating the dark squish of dates with the tawny scrim of seed. Customers approached tentatively at first, before growing emboldened and returning with friends, family members, and work colleagues. An irrefutable success, SKY WORLD 2049 has now attracted countless visitors of varied plumage and size, who are so at home within its walls they shirk all conventions of dress or toilet etiquette.

The titular inspiration for our back-yard construction, Sky World Entertainment Centre, is a derelict behemoth sprawled on Tāmaki Makaurau’s Queen Street, home to iMAX cinemas and not a whole lot else. Designed by architect Ashley Allen, and owned by JNJ Holdings, the mega-structure opened in 1999, then titled Force Entertainment Centre. Allen states that the design was inspired by Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult-classic Blade Runner, and the film’s lolly scramble of retro-futuristic architecture. Opposed to following the standard interior logic of existing malls, Allen wanted the space to be other-worldly, convoluted, and divisive in the responses it evoked. As the concept for the structure evolved, his idea became less about crafting a practical container and more invested in the birth of an enormous mechanical entity. Allen believed, “… it could almost be like a living machine and you come into this thing and it's humming and moving and things are unpredictable and you're not quite sure about that.”1

This attitude of disregarding convention towards higher ideals is similarly evident in JJHH Holdings’ SKY WORLD 2049. An ambitious construction, the Sandringham outdoor entertainment complex demonstrates stubborn refusal to accept reasonable limitations of what can and cannot be formed from edible matter. Such determination has been rewarded with obscure insights; smushed dates function as an effective mortar, a patented recipe of seed and binding agents can produce flat panels hardy enough to erect into complicated architecture.

We went to see Blade Runner 2049 at iMAX in 2017, marking my first visit to Queen Street’s Sky World. I remember being quite frightened and confused by the interior of the site - the view down through gaping space as one ascended the escalators felt frankly dangerous, inducing a sense of vertigo and intrusive thoughts. Having located our cinema, I enjoyed the scenes that flew you over dystopian landscape, swooping bird-like above charred ground and skeletal trees. The most memorable aspect of the outing took the form of Michael Galvin, seated several rows in front of us. At the time (and until 10 minutes ago) I only knew this man as Shortland Street’s Chris Warner. On leaving the complex, I commented to our group that, “I just really hope Chris Warner enjoyed the film,” and was quietly informed that the actor was walking only metres behind us. I was admittedly mortified, but I now wish Chris Warner would visit SKY WORLD 2049, or at the very least tune in online.

Being inside Allen’s Sky World gives me an odd feeling - all that sweeping chrome-on-tubular-chrome, the rocket lift, the coloured lighting - it’s like a hazardous sound-stage built for some live-action Jetsons saga. During my Canterbury childhood we would visit an old school McDonald’s playground, featuring a piece of Grimace-themed equipment - a large cage on springs you could climb inside - made from acrylic-painted steel. Tottering around in the bowels of Sky World breeds the exact same tomato sauce clang of worn-out nostalgia as that rockin’ Grimace prison. As Allen admits of his once-glitzy machine-monster, “It's like someone's pulled the plug out.”2 JJHH Holdings is no stranger to such demoralising realities, on several occasions technical difficulties have caused SKY WORLD 2049’s Twitch stream to shudder offline. 

Shooting Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner involved building a metropolis of scale models, led by chief model maker Mark Stetson. Archival images of these miniatures in progress are thrilling - Tyrell Corporation’s pyramidal lair squats on a large plinth, dwarfed by a young maker who is attending to details on a gridded side panel. Visible in the background is the untreated reverse of another model component, exposing it as a flat illusion.3 Models were drafted in two dimensional flats, with separate pieces meticulously cut then erected together. Stetson remembers working to resolve issues with how the model city operated on camera, “…there wasn’t enough lighting control or depth in the fine-scale miniature to separate the layers. So we decided to add a ground plane of cast-detailed parts to the foreground.” He also notes that ground-plane structures were given a rough surface finish to make the architecture appear “aged and crappy,” sometimes applying a coat of instant coffee.4 

A similar construction approach was followed in the development of SKY WORLD 2049, with patterns of flat panels oven-baked to size, then assembled post-curing. Likewise, unpredictable lighting and flattening effects have caused issues in the complex’s translation to film, here resolved by framing a wider shot that includes the support structure and our dish towels hung drying in the background. Light sources remain problematic, but the stream image is fantastically clear on overcast days. The innovative use of food stuffs is a self-explanatory parallel.

An enormous launch party marked the grand opening of the Force Entertainment Centre in 1999, organised by event planner Aline Sandilands. On the day of the launch, Sandilands recalls, “The architects and the builders were still laying tiles down the very front of the building. They’d laid them down that day and they told us we shouldn’t step on them for 12 hours.” The distinctive yellow and black chequered tiles lining the Queen Street entrance became an undulating plane as a result of this premature foot traffic, with their necessary realignment causing a week-long delay to the centre’s public opening.5 JJHH Holdings will empathise with Sandilands’ stress-soaked, 11th hour pre-opening experience. The evening before SKY WORLD 2049 went live, the designer could be found working by the light of a jerry-rigged bedside lamp, while eating a tepid mince toastie at 11:00pm.

Sky World, the original, is currently on the market, touted on Trade Me as a major development opportunity. Simultaneously, an array of sites within the complex continue to be aggressively promoted as available for lease, with skyworld.co.nz claiming ‘We can give you a good business opportunity to make your dream come true’ and ‘Various benefits and promotions are available for you!’ Despite Sky World’s food court having been shut down, the website confusingly boasts of an ‘International food boulevard with various delicious cuisines from around the global world.’ If you’re not in the market to buy or rent, you can always enjoy a simple trip to the SKYWORLD HORROR MAZE, and ‘Experience the intensity of a world of terror and fear unfolding before you.’

While the food court of Queen Street’s weary Sky World Entertainment Centre may be long closed and dust-covered, SKY WORLD 2049 is ALL FOOD COURT, baby. It’s a retro-futuristic gingerbread cottage of seed and egg white feeding the feathered masses. As a slew of regulars continue to use and abuse the amenities, its edible stucco coat and dried fruit bracings are being steadily stripped away, revealing the damp cardboard tubes and off-cuts that once supported SKY WORLD 2049’s utopian structure. Sparrow shit coats the forecourt, rubble is strewn everywhere, yet the loyal patrons remain resolutely undeterred. 

1 Chris Schulz, ‘It’s become a mish-mash of crap,’ 2 July 2021, https://boilerroom.substack.com/p/its-become-a-mish-mash-of-crap

2 Schulz, ‘It’s become a mish-mash of crap’

3 Rory Stott, ‘A New Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Blade Runner Model Shop,’ 19 March 2015, https://www.archdaily.com/611110/a-new-behind-the-scenes-look-at-the-blade-runner-model-shop?ad_medium=gallery

4 Ian Failes, ‘THE MINIATURE MODELS OF BLADE RUNNER,’ 2 October 2017, https://www.vfxvoice.com/the-miniature-models-of-blade-runner/

5 Sam Brooks, ‘An adventure every visit: From Sky World’s glitzy launch to its bleak present,’ 17 June  2021, https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/17-06-2021/an-adventure-every-visit-from-skyworlds-glitzy-launch-to-its-bleak-present

Becky Richards

Becky Richards is an Aotearoa New Zealand artist who works across ceramics, sculpture and installation. Also a writer and educator, Richards is the current editor of Ceramics New Zealand. In 2020, she co-started Mud Studios Limited; a shared ceramics studio based in Tāmaki Makaurau. She currently works as the studio director alongside a team of dedicated makers working in clay. She has an MFA from the University of Auckland and her work has been exhibited in Aotearoa and Australia.