There’s a new cinema design hitting the market and it’s as architecturally audacious and aesthetically pleasing as anything since the Loew’s Wonder Theaters of the late 1920’s.
Oma Cinema, the brainchild of architect Pierre Chican and business partner Nicolas Chican, looks to give patrons a decadent “vertical immersive experience.” The first of its kind is currently under construction in Paris, France, and is due to open sometime in 2021. It is replacing another cinema that was previously on the premises.
“Whereas as the cinemas built for more than 50 years now are similar and reproduce the same seating arrangement of the audience, this concept of movie theater creates a cinematographic experience that is at the same time intimate, spectacular and immersive, where every seat in the house is the best seat in the house,” said Pierre Chican.
The architect has a track record of bold, daring, and financially successful cinema designs to back it up. He designed both the UGC Les Halles and UGC Bercy in Paris, touted as two of the more successful and decadent movie theaters in Europe. It’s reported that UGC Les Halles sold 3.1 million tickets in 2019 and the UGC Bercy sold 1.9 million tickets.
The architecture of an Oma Cinema is less about one particular design and more about customization to fit the needs of a particular location. Each will feature an original “platform style” layout, flexible seating arrangements in each balcony, and a projector positioned among the “seating pods” allowing for a more immersive experience. However, operators may choose the size of each platform, the number of levels, platforms per level, platform placement, and seating configurations.
The concept is not without drawbacks. Though it may be visually stunning, the Oma Cinema is also among the least cost efficient theater designs possible. The promotional photo features an auditorium with five levels, five pods per level, and sixteen seats per pod. That’s 400 seats. While not egregious for the overall size of the space, the cost to construct the building as a whole–at least five stories tall and featuring multiple theaters–would be prohibitive.
Furthermore, even though Oma claims that existing theaters can be retrofitted with their unique concept, in most cases it doesn’t seem possible. The typical existing auditorium layout is more of a flatter, horizontal design, emphasizing more depth than height. Retrofitting such a theater would either make the seating density of the space financially impractical or require new construction, defeating the purpose.
Indeed, the Oma Cinema design may not develop into a financially viable concept. But now that the U.S. Justice Department is set on destroying the long-standing antitrust decrees separating movie studios from movie exhibitors, perhaps a deep-pocketed benefactor such as Disney or Netflix or Amazon may someday choose to run with it, building their very own chain of high-end theater locations.
For more visuals on the Oma Cinema design concept, check out the video below.