The Design of the Jurassic Park Visitor’s Center – Part 1

Rendering of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center from the Jurassic Park: Danger boardgame.

June 11 marks the 30th anniversary of the theatrical release of “Jurassic Park,” a blockbuster film which changed the course of cinema forever. A groundbreaking work of technical filmmaking—Hello, CGI!—it also faithfully brought to life the intricate themes from Michael Crichton’s novel of the same title. The result was (and is) a thrilling action-adventure spectacle!

Jurassic Park Original Movie Poster
The original, enigmatic 1993 film poster for “Jurassic Park.”

For a variety of reasons, not least of which is my own lifelong fascination with dinosaurs, this film has always held a special status in my family. To commemorate the 30th anniversary, I want to focus in on a little-discussed aspect of the film which nevertheless played a significant role in the visual storytelling: the design of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center! I will cover various aspects of the building’s exterior and interior designs over a series of blog posts through the end of June.

Billboard advertising the Jurassic Park film on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA 1993.
A billboard on Sunset Boulevard advertising the film in 1993. The film released just days before my birthday! Image from “Jurassic Park: The Ultimate Visual History” by James Mottram.

Before proceeding, a disclaimer: Be advised that this blog post includes images of copyrighted material for the purposes of providing commentary and criticism on a small portion of a larger work. As such, this post constitutes a transformative work protected under fair use doctrine as stated in Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 107 of the United States Code as implemented by Congress beginning with the Copyright Act of 1976.

Jurassic World Evolution rendering of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center.

Now, let’s discover the Jurassic Park Visitor Center!

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Setting the Stage

The facade of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center as John Hammond's guests arrive and disembark the jeeps.

This short blog post series will primarily focus on the interiors of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center. However, I want to use this first post to acknowledge the remarkable design of the building’s exterior. Far from a mere backdrop, the Visitor Center embodies the grandeur and ambition of John Hammond’s dream, assuming the role of an essential character. The awe-inspiring façade leaves a lasting mark on viewers, immersing us in the captivating world of Isla Nublar.

Dino-mite Design

The former primate house at the Cincinatti Zoo, now the reptile house.
The Jurassic Park Visitor Center bears a striking resemblance to the old primate house at the Cincinatti Zoo. The building, which is now the zoo’s reptile house, was designed in the “exotic” Turkish style.

It’s not entirely clear to me who exactly had the most input on the final design of the Visitor Center as it appears on film. However, several artists, including David J. Negrón, Sr. (a fellow Chicano Texan!); John Bell; and Tom Cranham worked on concepts.

The Jurassic Park visitor complex as designed by David J. Negron.
David Negrón designed a sprawling complex connected by delicate bridges over a river. It’s really a fantastical world!
John Bell concept design for the exterior of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center.
John Bell kept his design attempt whimsical to match the theme park atmosphere. He drew inspiration from the Disney parks and the ’64 World’s Fair in his designs. The design features an African influence.
Tom Cranham's design for the Jurassic Park Visitor Center.
Tom Cranham’s design for the building is the closest thing to what would ultimately be built for the screen. I’m not sure if this is Cranham’s actual design, or just a final draft for the production team.

Post-Modern Pile

The astonishing postmodern style of the Visitor Center is immediately noticeable. This is not entirely surprising, given that pre-production for Jurassic Park began in the early 1990s. This architectural style was at the peak of its popularity from the 1980s into the mid-1990s.

Post-modern architecture emerged in the late 20th century as a reaction against stark, prescriptive modernism. With motifs borrowed from classical architecture, post-modernism infused a sense of playful exuberance into the design landscape. The style incorporated diverse references and materials to create visually striking and thought-provoking buildings.

The Vanna Venturi house facade.
The Vanna Venturi house, designed by Robert Venturi in the 1960s for his mother, is largely considered the first “postmodern” building.
Seattle Art Museum entrance designed by Robert Venturi.
In my own city of Seattle, the Seattle Art Museum was designed by Robert Venturi and completed in 1991. MarmadukePercyView entrance Seattle Art Museum Seattle WashingtonCC BY-SA 3.0
Michael Graves designed the Walt Disney World Dolphin resort.
The Dolphin Resort, opened in 1990, is a postmodern building designed by Michael Graves for a real theme park–Walt Disney World. Notice the Egyptian influences.

Concrete Fortress

The Visitor’s Center on screen captures our attention with its robust appearance. It is predominantly constructed from thick, raw concrete–a deliberate design choice inspired by Crichton’s novel. In the book, Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler express curiosity about the extensive fortifications in the supposedly family-friendly theme park.

The Jurassic Park Visitor Center was built with thick concrete.
The majority of the Visitor Center exterior is made of thick, raw concrete.

Reaching for the Sky

The Visitor Center showcases a large central conical thatched roof, flanked by two smaller cones to the sides. Thatched roofs have a rich history in diverse cultures worldwide. Their rustic charm evokes a warm, tropical vibe associated with exotic destinations. In this case, they replace conventional domes and cupolas of Renaissance and Baroque architecture. These roofs also function as roof lanterns, allowing light to enter the building’s atrium below through several windows.

The roof also features a rusty red guardrail parapet, another element taken from architecture of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

The roof of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center features three striking conical thatched roofs and a parapet.
The most astonishing element of the building’s design is the roof.

Ahead of the Curve

The front facade of the Visitor’s Center is not flat, but concave. This is one hallmark of post-modern architecture, which eschews straight edges whenever possible. At the center of the curve is a grand doorway entrance, flanked on both sides by engaged columns. The style inspiration here is classical Greek and Roman architecture, but the elements are much more stylized in keeping with the tenets of postmodernism. Between the columns are large, tinted windows to give the impression of an open colonnade. The muntins of the windows are painted a turquoise color which was especially popular in the early 1990s.

An illustration by Kiko Sanchez showing the concave shape of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center facade.
This illustration detail by Kiko Sanchez on Etsy shows the concave shape of the Visitor Center facade especially well.
Jurassic Park Visitor Center window details.
Notice the color of the window muntins. This particular color of turquoise was very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This image also shows details of the engaged, stylized columns.

A Grand Entrance

Another notable feature is the grand entrance, which features large wooden doors, dinosaur fossils sculpted in bas relief, and two large concrete buttresses that echo the famous Jurassic Park entrance gates.

The final design of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center entrance.

The design of the entrance is interesting. Aside from the sculpting on the door surround, the lines here are all angular. There is an exaggerated lintel above the door which looks almost like it’s trying to be an architrave, but it is too large and found only on the head of the frame. The jambs are otherwise simple concrete supports.

Michelangelo's "Awakening Slave" inspired the fossil bas reliefs at Jurassic Park.
This relief is one of the unfinished sculptures from Michelangelo’s “Prisoners” series for the tomb of Pope Julius II. The character emerges from the stone as though awakened. This idea inspired the fossil bas reliefs at the Jurassic Park Visitor Center, per production designer Rick Carter.

The door frame is then surrounded by carved stonework featuring dinosaur fossils which was inspired by the marble relief sculptures of Michelangelo. We often see similar pedimental bas-relief work above doorways in classical and Romanesque-style architecture.

Relief carvings surround the doors to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The doors of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris are Romanesque in design. Their carved bas relief design appears similar to the Jurassic Park Visitor Center entrance.

The doors themselves were a design by John Bell, who incorporated an egg and sunbeam motif meant to evoke creation, optimism, glory, and John Hammond’s own hubris.

John Bell's design of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center doors.
John Bell’s nearly final design for the entrance.

Welcome to Jurassic Park

Altogether, the different material elements and architecture of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center create a stunning building that wows us with its majesty. The bold lines, imposing structure, and meticulous detailing captivate our senses, transporting us into a world of prehistoric wonders resurrected. With its awe-inspiring character, the Visitor Center stands as a testament to technological ambition and serves as a gateway to a truly unforgettable adventure.

READ PART 2 HERE and stay tuned to the blog towards the end of the month for new content as we go inside to discover the interior designs of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center in time for the film’s 30th anniversary!


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