Hero Image Natalee Tan

In a realm conceived of volumes and speeds, it is surprising how architectural infrastructure is often overlooked, being considered instead as benign conduits that serve passively alongside their building counterparts. Perhaps due to this apathy in terms of design, an authoritarian order, made up of road signs and road hierarchies, is left to dominate current infrastructural systems. This rigid order tends to produce reductive repercussions that are monotonous and utilitarian, potentially creating a society of automatons obediently following instructions set on aluminium spears lodged into the ground.

This thesis, seeking an antidote to the authoritarian, researches into a new means of infrastructure, a ludic order which complements the complex layered nature of innate human behaviour, favouring the freedom of uncertain playful movement where control of the stick shift lies with the player. Critically questioning the way in which architectural infrastructure can challenge current authoritarian movement is a step towards a ludic movement. This thesis investigates an architecture that celebrates an aggregation of speeds and play typologies which could perhaps bring to light the playfulness that already exists within. The architecture transforms into an amalgamation of real and imaginary spaces where freedom of playful movement is pursued, limits of road rules are tested and infrastructure is reintroduced as significant conditions of architecture.

This research proposes a need for a ludic order of infrastructure, a model that challenges the current autocratic order. Could a ludic order of movement rectify the faults in authoritarian movement and serve as a new paradigm for infrastructure?

Authoritarian is defined as, “expecting or requiring people to obey rules or laws, not allowing personal freedom.”

Ludic is defined as, “relating to, or characterised by play: playful.” Originating from the Latin word, ludus meaning game, ludic in ludic movement then implies a motion that is undirected, spontaneous and playful, freely controlled by the individual/community.

The research unfolds with a discussion of speed and play theory, informed by the writings of Paul Virilio and Johan Huizinga, a speed theorist and a play theorist respectively. The methodology applied for conceptual development of the design research draws on the work of Iain Borden. Photography and film become the tools of exploration, whilst wire and line drawings become the apparatus for physical making throughout the design process.

Natalee Tan 3
Wire models
Natalee Tan 4
Line drawings
Natalee Tan 5
Wire models
Natalee Tan 6
Acrylic paint


These theoretical and conceptual findings lead into an analysis of the town of Rotorua, a tourist city with an existing unconventional collection of speed play activities and an interesting geothermal infrastructural system. Influenced by Learning from Las Vegas, the colloquial nickname Rotovegas becomes an escape from the authoritarian traffic of urban cities and provides a suitable space for the experimentation of the ludic movement hypothesis. Thus, with a design proposition towards an architecture of play and speed in mind, Rotovegas: Playground of Flux was conceived.

Being reminded of the teachings of Venturi and Scott Brown, the significance of road signage was in constant consciousness, it’s authoritarian echo slowly grinding away the beauty that comes with the frivolous exploration of space. The yellow warning signs unlike the red, green or blue however, may be the outlet for blurring those lines between innate and automated decision making. Yellow, like the yellow in warning signs invites one to question and challenge, whilst yellow too reflects the sulphuric properties of Rotorua. Immersed in the platform of a yellow landscape, the intent of Rotovegas was to be an architectural proposition that could interfere with the existing autocratic systems put in place.


Finished Product

Situated on an existing and functioning horse racecourse, the design integrates the existing motorways, Fenton Street and Te Ngae Road, both important traffic routes for residents and tourists heading to Auckland CBD. The design channels road users into a Rotor-like route such as in the name Rotorua, to provide a contrasting experience from the everyday traffic flow. Rotovegas consists of three ellipses; a carpark in the middle, a rotary car ride, and a water reservoir repurposed as a water park. Rooftop skateparks, drive-through cinemas, zorb ball ramps, flailing petrol stations,  conveyor-belted supermarkets, layer over each other in tangled junctions, tamed by the sulphuric mist that clouds Rotorua.

One who enters Rotovegas seeks the unexpected, risks and perpetual qualities involved with play. The design encourages the same time spent stuck in traffic to be used  towards taking an unpredictable route that plays with the rhythmic properties of speed, where speed is manipulated into categories of start, deceleration, climax, acceleration, collision and restart. Collectively, Rotovegas manifests a fabricated universe which allows for the aggregation of speed typologies with play at the forefront of transitory spatial awareness.


Critic's Text

Natalee Tan’s project, Rotovegas: Playground of Flux, stands out because of the glorious yellow images – roads loop, supermarket shelves roll by and streams of water shoot through an atmosphere that conveys the sulphurous, underworld qualities of Rotorua. The images are formed with lines of light architecture and ghost people etched with grace and delicacy in a playground of infrastructure. As John Huizinga, the theorist of play, suggests if “play is based on the manipulation of certain images, on a certain ‘imagination’ of reality (i.e. its conversion into images), then our main concern will be to grasp the value and significance of these images and their ‘imagination’.”1

Tan’s work gives another form of expression to systems of highways, shopping, and exercise venues. Rationality wavers and rules bend as she recasts events; elements of play infiltrate the everyday even as the fabricated world is set apart. Her design is seriously fun and also serious as it reimagines the freedom of the road. The Los Angeles freeway system that gripped Reyner Banham in the early 1970s is recalled and reinvented by Tan’s images as is the flow of snarling vehicles, bristling with speed, oblivious to the lure of motels, found in Saul Steinberg’s drawing Motels and Highway, 1959.

Unlike the twentieth century proponents of play there is something detached or disinterested in the small figures that swim, dive, rollerblade, cycle and drive in the yellow glow. The unneeded loop of a road that turns, momentarily, into a Ferris wheel, is an embellishment to be retained only as a memory, a refrain. The figures occupy a world architecturally fashioned as temporary with open structures and repetitive forms; an enchanted temporary zone for collective play. As Jane Bennett suggests; “To be enchanted is to be struck and shaken by the extraordinary that lives amid the familiar and the everyday.”2 And as Huizinga points out: “Play has a tendency to be beautiful.”3

— Associate Professor Sarah Treadwell, supervisor

  1. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, (Boston: Beacon Press,1990),4. http://art.yale.edu/file_colum...
  2. Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Light:Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001), 4.
  3. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, (Boston: Beacon Press,1990),10.