Years ago, I had a dream about a character with flight powers being chased through the big pyramidal atrium of a convention center.
I no longer remember exactly how that dream ended.
Since then, I’ve composed a short story based upon the dream. It’s embellished with concepts and worldbuilding that I’m pretty sure were not part of the original dream. Some of the embellishments are almost certainly a case of writing for an audience.
The story contains some action sequences that I worry would be hard for the reader to follow, if they don’t have an accurate mental model of the space in which the story is taking place. I will try to provide a written description in the story, but it might disrupt the flow of the story if I write as full a description as might be necessary. I want to illustrate this story to make it easier for the reader to visualize.
Illustrating this story is tricky, because dream architecture doesn’t pay attention to things like angles or perspective or questions of how tall an atrium needs to be to have the right angles for the illustration.
Therefore, I set forth to create an art reference for the story.
The setting is a convention center, externally pyramidal in form, with a pyramidal atrium in the middle.
The atrium is floored by a train station, with three platforms providing access to two pairs of tracks. These tracks have platform doors, which at their upper end meet with a mezzanine level running above the tracks. The mezzanine level provides the ticketing hall for the train station, as well as the walkways between the three platforms. The mezzanine level is shaped like an octothorpe (
#), with two lines covering the tracks and two lines crossing them. These four crossing bridges are the upper level of the station. These bridges also support the “floor” of the atrium, which is a food court dining area. The hollows of the
# are open to the platforms below, and the solids are covered in tables and chairs and planters.
The food court floor is surrounded by the base of the pyramid. It is these four sides which encompass the ground-level facts of life of any large convention center: the exhibitor hall, the restaurants, the hotel lobby, the logistics end of things.
For many floors upwards, the atrium continues. The pyramid gradually transitions from big ballrooms and lecture halls to smaller lecture halls, conference rooms, and breakout spaces. Above the several floors of the convention center are the many floors of the hotel proper, with their hallways looking in towards the atrium. The outside faces of the hotel rooms are the outer walls of the pyramid.
The hotel rooms stop level with the top of the atrium’s pyramid, and are surmounted by a floor for mechanical and logistical usage. This floor provides access to a catwalk at the top of the atrium, mostly used for changing lightbulbs.
Above the mechanical floor is the peak of the outer pyramid, which is set up as a large bar with views of the surrounding city.
These are all aspects of one more-central question: How grand is the convention center?
If I get the proportions too small, the convention center atrium becomes a tiny, claustrophobic space. If I get the proportions too big, it becomes a cavern unfillable by any human population.
How large a human population is large enough? I asked a friend who’s helped run a largeish anime con: 23,000 attendees at their convention. Other “large” cons run in the 20k-30k range, according to various shallow googles, with the biggest topping out near 100k.
So I’ll aim for 30k guests at this convention, in this convention center, which means that I should plan for 40k people’s worth of space across the various rooms, and then have lots of overflow space in the hallways.
Using the room dimensions provided in this floorplan of the Atlanta Mariott Marquis, a 25,000 square foot ballroom can hold 2,500 people in theatre or reception configurations. The 10 square feet per person numbers hold up for smaller rooms as well.
Ballrooms should be at least 100 feet wide by 200 feet long.
Since I’m leaning towards “grand”, this station will be built to the AAR Plate H loading gauge, which is designed for freight rail with double-stacked containers. The total envelope is 9’11” wide and 20’2” tall, if you want to draw it as a rectangle. It’s a huge loading gauge, and I’m using it here to allow this idealized transit system to be used for freight within the city in addition to passenger transit. Also, 10’ by 20’ is a nice round set of dimensions.
A convention center and hotel needs, in addition to the revenue spaces, the following:
A rail station needs:
I’m tempted to handwave away all the track-related stuff by putting it into a defined area in the map and saying “Yep, that’s where the tracks go,” but the track placement affects the loading docks.
I’m basing these plans in part upon:
The Luxor Las Vegas was not a consideration in the planning or layout of this structure.
If you’re looking at this closely, you’ll have noticed that I allowed that promenade bounding square to accidentally define the edge of the atrium; I need to redo this so that the atrium only stretches from the corners of the bounding squares.
When I started to redo the above floorplan, I realized that having the ballrooms and exhibition halls be part of the main structure of the pyramid would give it very thick exterior walls, more than 150 feet thick in some places. Setting aside 10 feet for an internal hallway, and having hotel rooms open onto the atrium, I still can’t justify having 70-foot-deep hotel rooms. The proportions are too awkward; something closer to 40 feet is more in line with the blueprints I’ve found.
If the ballrooms and exhibition halls are no longer placed within the structure of the pyramid, then the pyramid’s walls can be as thin as usual conference rooms need to be. It’s rare to see a conference room more than sixty feet deep on its longest axis.
The above floorplan also suffered from a lack of knowledge about where the roads would be placed outside the building. I’ve resolved that below.
The convention center itself remains rectangular, even if its accessory buildings do not. I’m pretty happy with how this turned out. Now to translate it to another 3d modelling program.
In terms of the earlier questions:
So now it’s on to a new set of questions:
These questions are all different ways of framing the same question.
To help illustrate that question, here’s a pencil-on-paper diagram:
How tall is too tall? How short is too short?
Now I need to put these in a modeling program.
Earlier, I had tried to build a convention center at the scale of one foot to one block. I wasn’t even sure what the proportions of the pyramid would be, but it did help with the later architectural drawings shown on this page.
Also, I ran out of space. Minecraft’s unmodded maximum height is 255 blocks, and I quickly hit the top of the world when trying to build at the 1 block : 1 foot scale.
The architectural models I made in Minecraft were built at the scale of 1 block : 5 feet, which means that the 400-foot width of the convention center comes in at 80 blocks, and the atrium’s inner width at 40 blocks, with a 20-block radius for the atrium’s square. By building out of blocks, rather than mathematical constructs, I had to warp the math to accommodate the setting, which is why in the following descriptions you’ll see numbers that don’t quite match to the cross-section drawing above.
In these tables, the “width” figure is for the radius of the pyramid from the center to the nearest point on an edge, not the distance between opposing edges.
|width:height||height (ft)||height (blocks)|
|width:height||height (ft)||height (blocks)|
After playing around with the field-of-view sliders in Minecraft, and extensive use of WorldEdit commands, I settled on:
Inner Pyramid: 300 feet tall
Outer pyramid: 346 feet tall
The 46-foot difference leaves room for the bar at the top of the pyramid.
Coincidentally, using a 1:√3 ratio for the outer pyramid means that each face of the pyramid is square.
Construct a right triangle ABC, with side AB 1 unit long and side BC √3 units long. Hypotenuse AC is 2 units long, and is the shortest distance up the side of the pyramid from its base to its peak. BC runs up the middle of each face of the pyramid.
With line AC as the side of a right triangle ACD, construct at right angles to line AC and line AB a line AD of length 1. Extend AD from point A away from D for 1 unit, to point E. Construct a triangle DEC. Length DE should be 2. Isosceles triangle DEC, with height AC, is 2 units tall and 2 units wide: a square triangle.
Rotate the shape ABCDE around the BC axis in 90, 180, and 270 degree stops. This forms the pyramid.
Construction of the pyramid is therefore achieved by cutting out one base square of 2 units on a side, and four Isosceles triangles each two units tall by two units wide. The length √3 need never be measured.
I have several options for making an art reference for this project:
The idea to use Sketchup came to me as I was typing these notes up. It was not acted upon; Sketchup isn’t available for my operating system.
I’ve done some modeling in Blender, most for glowingskull’s skulls, but I’m not confident in the interface or my ability to make anything more than shapeless gray polygons.
The final digital modeling option is Minecraft. I did try to get a smaller-scale model of the pyramid built in Minecraft, but the problem there is that Minecraft’s terrain generation doesn’t let me ask it to give me Japanese fjords. I have to hunt for them across a world that stretches for tens of millions of blocks in any direction.
Therefore, I’m going to build this out of standard modeling supplies in the physical world. This means lots of foamcore, glue, and craft knives.
This model was constructed from foamcore laminated with five-cells-per-inch graph paper, at an approximate scale of one square equals 20 feet. Thus, one inch is 100 feet, and 52 inches, a little less than a mile.
Of course, one building complex is not enough to build a city. The buildings should be integrated into a cityscape incorporating roads and the river.
For terrain generation, I turned to Martin O’Leary’s Uncharted Atlas for inspiration.
Of these maps, I chose the upper-left region, Sí Zugu Bugu, as having the most-likely topography, and consulted with several students of geography and geology to determine what the rock formations underlying the city of Burugu might look like.
But in terms of city structure and appearances, I think the main inspiration may be this video of a city along both sides of a narrow river between tall mountains, which the video-poster identifies as Yanjin County, Zhaotong City, Yunnan Province, China, but which is placed on Google Maps as a stretch of the Guanhe River a little south of Yanjingzhen, within Yanjin County, Yunnan Province, a couple miles downriver of the county seat. Google Maps’ imagery appears several years out of date, however.
I constructed a temporary terrain model of Burugu out of scrap fabric, cardboard, and Lego bricks, at the same scale as the cardboard model above. It helped to work out the terrain, and served as a discussion piece for the visiting consulting geographers, but it’s not going to be useful except as a temporary installation. It takes up 100 square feet of floor, and the terrain modeling isn’t more than gestural. Plus, I think the terrain scale is way off.
So, yeah, back to Blender I go.