The Design of the Jurassic Park Visitor’s Center – Part 3

Velociraptor DNA Jurassic Park

In both movie set design and interior design, the storytelling plays a pivotal role. Interior designers craft spaces that reflect the personality, preferences, and stories of their clients, while movie set designers translate scripts into tangible environments that enhance the narrative being portrayed on the silver screen. By effectively utilizing design elements, both movie set designers and interior designers harness the power of storytelling to captivate and transport their audience into a different world, be it fictional or personal.

Computer screen showing the Jurassic Park Visitor Center in simplified plan view.
This computer screen shot shows the Visitor Center in simplified plan view. It’s not clear where the operations center for the park is located–perhaps the upper left section of the building?

The set design for the landmark film Jurassic Park has received little mention in discussions of the film, which is a shame since it adds so much to the world-building. As we conclude this “Jurassic June” on the 30th anniversary of the release of Jurassic Park to cinemas in 1993, I thought we could take one last look at the film’s set design in this third and final installment of the Design of the Jurassic Park Visitor Center series. Be sure to check out the first post here, and the second post here.

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.

Now, let’s walk upstairs to discover the design deep in the heart of the Visitor Center’s core!

Alan Grant desperately tries to lock the doors to the control room as a Velociraptor peers through the window.
“The door locks! Ellie, put up the door locks!”

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Heart of Darkness

A diagram for Jurassic Park's operations center and theater ride shows the door locks, but does not indicate the rooms.
A computer graphic plan of the Jurassic Park operations area and theater ride shows secured entrances..

In stark contrast to the open loftiness of the rotunda and the inviting atmosphere of the park’s other main areas, the heart of the Visitor Center exudes a recognizable difference in tone. Here, darkness prevails as a visual manifestation of the serious subtextual themes of technology, control, and human dominion over nature which underlie the story of Jurassic Park.

Despite being on the second floor, we notice this section of the building gives a distinct impression of fortification—like being in a bunker. Notably, there are no windows looking outside. Instead, we find numerous interior windows serving as partitions between areas and fostering a myopic and self-referential atmosphere.

A sketch showing the section of the building how the operations center and interior tour are laid out.
This simple sketch shows the layout of the operations rooms and tour ride in the Visitor Center.

The absence of a connection to the outside world reinforces the idea that within these walls, the scientists and engineers of Jurassic Park have become masters of their own domain, exerting complete control over the dinosaurs they have brought back to life. The area’s myopic ambiance suggests a detachment from ethical considerations and consequences, as the focus remains fixated on the park’s internal operations rather than what’s occurring outside.

However, we must remember that this area is meant to be showcased to the anticipated tourists who are expected to eventually pass through the Visitor Center doors. The appearance of the operations center of Jurassic Park is meant to reassure tourists that everything is safe and under control.


The first room we see of the heart of the Visitor Center is the theater. Here, guests filter into a small space with stadium seating which looks onto a screen where they watch a film introducing them to Mr. DNA, an anthropomorphic Ed cartoon DNA strand who explains the technological miracles of Jurassic Park. 

The red carpeting and maroon seats remind us that this is a theater space—red upholstery in theaters likely hailing from the heyday of the opera house. Additionally, red is thought to create a sense of darkness and immersion by reducing visual distractions and reflected light, drawing the viewer’s focus to the screen.

Theaters and screening rooms are very common elements of theme park and institutional experiences, as films provide easy and entertaining exposition. For example, I just paid a visit to the Bradford Island Visitor Center at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia Rive which had a theater as part of its own tour experience. 

The screening room of the Jurassic Park Theater ride.

Despite its small size, the theater room at Jurassic Park has a cavernous quality. The room is done up mostly in greys. There is a lighted, stepped casing in the center of the room which brings focus to the screen at the front. 

The screen is behind an asymmetric window, which recalls the postmodern design of the building. The angular shape of the window also evokes the planar surfaces of rocks. The window is framed by a stone trim (granite, perhaps?). 

The  wall surrounding the screen is covered in what appears to be stone tile. Stacked stone veneers were very popular in the middle of the 20th century—the heyday of what we now call “Midcentury Modern.” Orienting the veneers vertically would be a playful way of incorporating this design element at Jurassic Park with postmodern panache. Yet, the more likely material here is cast concrete and we will see ahead why I believe this is the case. 

The back walls of the Jurassic Park theater are painted in a medium-tone cool gray. The restraint bars, visible here, are slate gray.
The back walls of the theater are painted in a medium-tone cool gray. The restraint bars, visible here, are slate gray. At the far right bottom corner, you can see the top of a rocky “outcropping” which acts as a barrier at the first row of seats.

The Tour Moves On

Upon completion of the short film, slate-blue restraint bars are activated to secure passengers in their seats as the room starts to rotate. We learn that the amphitheater is actually something of a theme park ride, and the room begins to move in a counter-clockwise arc on an unseen track. 

As the room turns, the screen wall transitions to a larger (but still asymmetrically-shaped) window with decals adhered to the glass saying things like “hatchery,” “genetics,” and “fertilization.” The window peers into a large room where we see computer stations, scientific equipment, and workers in white hazmat suits milling about. This next room is the laboratory showcase. 

As the theater room turns, a window moves into view showing another room.

“Can’t We See The Unfertilized Eggs?”

An early design concept for Jurassic Park's lab.
An early design concept by Tom Cranham shows a much more spacious and high-tech laboratory than what appears in the final film.

The laboratory, enclosed by concrete walls, is a clean and modern space with an overall industrial appearance. As someone who has worked in labs in a former life, I can tell you that the lab at Jurassic Park looks especially tidy and organized. Not surprising, given that it’s meant to be a showcase room.

Scientists at Jurassic Park.
These hardworking cowpokes are the real miracle workers of Jurassic Park. Notice the entrance vestibule in the back left corner.

It appears that some of the walls are made of board-formed concrete, which I believe is actually also the case for the theater wall that I mentioned earlier. We can observe the same board-formed concrete on the wall where the lab picture window is located.

Doctor Henry Wu, chief geneticist at Jurassic Park, expresses disbelief at the claim that his genetically engineered and modified creations can breed. Behind him, we clearly see the board-formed concrete walls that appear throughout the operations area of the building.

The floor is divided in two by a bright red stripe, one side of the floor being green and the other white. The floor materials are unclear. Terrazzo, perhaps, or some kind of vinyl tile?

The lab at Jurassic Park appears busy, yet pristine.
A view of the lab from the mezzanine. Notice the floors.

The lab is accessed through a “decontamination” vestibule on a mezzanine level and catwalk at the back wall. This vestibule is presumably where the park workers suit up before entering. The catwalk leads to an elevated cylindrical room with glass curtain walls which juts out into the lab, which is the embryo cold storage room. The whole layout is in effect echoing what was done in the Visitor Center rotunda. 

This short film clip shows “Jurassic Park” author Michael Crichton enter the small Embryo Cold Storage Room in the film’s laboratory set.

The guardrails on the mezzanine are painted in the same teal color as the window muntins on the exterior of the Visitor Center. The mezzanine and catwalk floors are industrial metal grating. A short staircase leads down from the mezzanine to the lab floor below. 

The floor plan is arranged such that the work of the scientists is front and center as viewed from the rotating amphitheater. On stage left, a pair of rectangular refrigerators occupy a corner, and behind we find a small area for the hatchery. There appears to be only one singular tub-shaped incubator whose basin is filled with Spanish moss and ferns over which lay a number of dinosaur eggs. The eggs are periodically turned by a robotic arm, which was inspired by machinery at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena. A glass dome with heat lamp hangs over the incubator and can be lowered or lifted hydraulically. 

The hatchery in the Jurassic Park laboratory.
This hazy image taken from the same NOVA episode mentioned above shows the back corner of the lab which contains the egg hatchery. In the foreground we see the cradle contraptions holding the unfertilized eggs, and in the back is the egg incubator.
Jurassic Park characters gathered around the egg incubator.
In an awe-inspiring moment of the film, the characters gather around the egg incubator to witness the miracle of Jurassic Park’s technology.
Concept design for the Jurassic Park egg incubator.
The egg incubator on film appears very similar to production artist John Bell’s concept. Notice the very futuristic sci-fi design.
A robotic arm periodically turns the eggs so that they can be evenly warmed.
Dinosaur eggs in the hatchery are periodically turned by a robotic arm.
Here, we see John Bell’s design for the egg cradles.

As the amphitheater continues to turn, we pass a doorway which leads to a corridor that separates the laboratory from the next space, the control room.


The Jurassic Park Control Room
Principal engineer Ray Arnold pulls up applications on the computers of Jurassic Park’s control room to monitor the operations. Notice some walls are made up of grid panels.

The control room at the Visitor Center is Jurassic Park’s operations hub. Think of it like NASA’s Mission Control center. All of Jurassic Park’s systems are designed to be operated from this room—even with minimal staffing for up to 3 days! (The latter proves to be a key plot point in the story.)

The design of the room was inspired by computer facilities at MIT and Caltech, as well as the set of the 1979 nuclear disaster film “The China Syndrome.”

An early design concept for the Jurassic Park control room.
John Bell’s early design concept for the control room features a sark-suited John Hammond theatrically barking orders to the control room below.

When we first see the room, we are immediately struck by its darkness. The whole room is bathed in black, with electronic screens and lights providing only minimal illumination. The only windows are found on a wall at stage left, and the windows face into the interior corridor which separates the control room from the laboratory. These windows are interesting, because they have the appearance of French dormer windows that have been rendered flat with the pediment tilted off axis. This is a prime example of a postmodern design referencing previous architectural traditions in a playful way. 

As with the lab, the Jurassic Park control room has only windows which look into other interior spaces.
The round windows in the control room.
French dormer window
The windows in the Control Room at Jurassic Park bear a striking similarity to French dormer windows, but which have been turned off their axis. Very postmodern.
An early design for the control room (artist unknown). Image from Jurassic Time on Facebook.
An early design concept for the control room. Image from Jurassic Time Facebook page.
John Bell second Jurassic Park Control Room concept
This second concept by artist John Bell appears much closer to the final design of the room as it appears on film.

The back of the room is dominated by a large screen which features a map of the island rendered in 3-D. A few smaller screen flank this larger screen. This is a very common setup in these types of rooms, as we can see from the NASA Mission Control center. 

In the back left, you can see the main screen featuring a 3-D map of Isla Nublar. Below that is a bank of supercomputers.
NASA's mission control center.
The Jurassic Park control room looks a lot like the mission control center at NASA.

Below the screens is a bank of black structures which feature blinking red electronic lights in a sort of hatched pattern. They are actually computers—supercomputers, in fact! These are Connection Machine supercomputers from the now defunct Thinking Machines Corporation. When the film was released in 1993, Thinking Machines laid claim to the four fastest computers in the world! Clearly, Hammond spared no expense! 

Jurassic Park’s control room features several Connection Machine supercomputers from the Thinking Machines Corporation.

“Alejandro’s Prepared A Delightful Meal”

Elsewhere in the Visitor Center, John Hammond entertains his guests over a luncheon of Chilean sea bass in the conference room of the Visitor Center while slide projectors display Jurassic Park marketing images in the round.

Jurassic park conference/VIP dining room.
Hammond invites his guests for a lunch of Chilean sea bass.

The simplicity of the room’s design is interesting. This scene, arguably the most important in the film, exposes Michael Crichton’s philosophical underpinnings and moral concerns regarding Jurassic Park as a story, and the dangers of technological hubris writ large. Therefore, it is crucial that the scenery not distract or diminish the gravity of the ideas expressed through the characters’ dialogues.

Art Director Patty Podesta set up this room with the assistance of Art Department Coordinator Caroline Quinn, who organized and produced many of the slides. The slides aim to depict a forward-thinking optimism regarding the park’s expected profitability and upcoming attractions, juxtaposed with the scientists at the table who raise more serious inquiries. The projectors cast a halo effect behind the actors’ heads, creating a poignant piece of cinematography.

Ian Malcolm philosophy scene in Jurassic Park.
Dr. Ian Malcolm philosophizes about the ethics of Jurassic Park while projectors illuminate his head creating a halo effect.

In terms of interior design, the room maintains a deliberate simplicity that aligns with its function as a conference room for discussing important ideas. It features a glossy black oval table, complemented by sleek, modern leather chairs. The walls are completely covered in pitch black duvetyne, ensuring the absence of any external light intrusion. That lunch is served in the conference room as opposed to the Cretaceous Cafe underscores the importance of both the people present in the room and their conversation.

Jurassic park porcelain plate on screen
The fine china used in Jurassic Park was repurposed form a Tiffany and Co. set made in Limoges, France.

Speaking of lunch, we witness the placement of exquisite “Jurassic Park”-branded chinaware on the table. The plates are of the “Black Band” pattern by Tiffany and Co. and were crafted in Limoges, France. They boast a burnished gold outer band adorned with glossy dots, followed by a black band. Specifically for the film, a “Jurassic Park” logo appears to have been meticulously applied in black enamel overglaze. The style closely resembles the more popular “Blue Band” pattern that once graced numerous wedding registries. Unfortunately, both patterns have been discontinued for quite some time, although they occasionally surface on the secondary market.

Tiffany black band plate
Tiffany’s Limoges “Black Band” pattern without any applied logo.
Tiffany blue band salad plate
Tiffany’s “Blue Band” pattern was in the same style, but much more popular for wedding registries.

30 Years of Inspiration

Much like interior design does for real-life spaces, movie set design intertwines story-telling and aesthetics to create unique environments that shape our viewing experience. The often-overlooked set design of Jurassic Park demonstrates the vital role it plays in constructing a compelling and immersive world that resonates with viewers even after 30 years, serving as a visual testament to the enduring themes and intentions behind the story. The set pieces of Jurassic Park are as much a part of the film as the action sequences, dialogue, and score!

Thank you for joining me on my three-part tour of the iconic Jurassic Park Visitor Center’s design. The film and its visuals have captivated audiences worldwide for the past 30 years thanks to the brilliant direction of Steven Spielberg and the collective efforts of the entire production team. They successfully crafted a mesmerizing world that still feels incredibly tangible–almost within our reach. Here’s to 30 years more of dino-mite success for one of the greatest summer blockbusters of all time!

Jurassic Park's Tyrannosaurus rex roars in a final triumphant scene.


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