Pasadena Design Firm Creates Immersive Experiences at One World Trade Center and Other Popular Places Around the World – Pasadena Now


For Phil Hettema, President and Creative Director of Pasadena’s Hettema Group, a team of ‘experience designers’, architects and media producers best known for delivering uniquely compelling and emotionally resonant immersive guest experiences, a simple sentence sums up what his team and he really do for a living:

“You bring the dream, we will create it,” sums up what is practically a corporate slogan for creators of attractions such as the High Roller Observation Wheel at LINQ in Las Vegas; the Beyond All Boundaries exhibit at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans; and Dreamworks Water Park in New Jersey. Currently, the creative teams of the Hettema group are currently working on a Crystal lobby at the Galaxy hotel in Macau.

But perhaps the most professionally and emotionally stimulating project for the Hettema Group was the exhibit they installed in the One World Observatory at the One World Trade Center.

Phil Hettema. [Photo courtesy of Pasadena Unified School District]

Their work has made One World Trade Center more than just a new skyscraper in Lower Manhattan. The building presents itself as “a ray of hope – a monumental icon of renewal and rebirth and a lasting testimony to the resilience of the human spirit”, as the Hettema group describes it.

“One World Observatory is a state-of-the-art guest experience that elevates the One World Trade Center observation deck from a spectacular sightseeing opportunity to an inspiring personal journey,” the company says on its website.

“Of course it’s located right there at Ground Zero where September 11 happened,” Hettema said recently of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which knocked down the Twin Towers, destroyed neighboring properties and killed people. nearly 3,000 people.

“But there is a museum next door that talks about September 11, and there is a memorial, which is very deep and very important,” he noted. The New York Port Authority, he said, “really wanted this experience to be forward looking and talk about the reconstruction at this site and an optimistic vision for the future. So that was our challenge. But we also knew that no one would come to visit this building and set foot in this new tower without thinking about what had happened there before.

The company said construction work on the observatory began in early 2014 and the facility opened in May 2015.

The “ultimate” experience

Placed near the top of what is now the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the One World Observatory receives millions of visitors each year, engaging people with a series of cutting-edge multimedia presentations and exhibits and immersing them in an uplifting tribute to the new One World Trade Center as a global nexus of 21st century commerce, culture and community.

“We have dressed the elevators with high definition media so that you look like you are outside, can see everything around you but actually see media that we have created,” Hettema said. , describing the experience.

“It’s like if you take off from the basement and start looking at the terrain around you, you see what New York was like 700 years ago. As you go up, you move through time and see New York building around you, and the city, the city sort of progresses in time, because 700 years ago there was no was nothing on the southern end of Manhattan, ”he said. .

One World Trade Center became New York’s tallest structure on April 30, 2012, when it passed the Empire State Building, which rises to 1,454 feet. On May 10, 2013, the last element of the skyscraper’s spire was installed, making the building, including its spire, a total height of 1,776 feet, a deliberate reference to the year of the signing of the declaration of independence of the United States.

The building has 94 floors, with the top floor numbered 104. The elevator ride ends at floors 100 to 102, where guests enjoy what is billed as the “ultimate observation deck experience,” which could just as well to be called “the Hettema group experience”. “

The new One World Trade Center, formerly known as the “Freedom Tower,” opened on November 3, 2014. The One World Observatory opened on May 29, 2015, offering customers panoramic views of New York City and 72 km from the surrounding area. Region.

Create memories

“Especially now, coming out of COVID, I think it’s clear to everyone that as people we really need to experience and connect with each other in a number of ways,” Hettema said. .

“And I think everyone is hungry, after being home for about 18 months, to go out into the world and connect with each other in a deeper way, and that’s how memories are made.” , did he declare.

Describing his company’s work in more detail, Hettema said the creative teams have almost always been involved in the initial creative development of every project. A client often has a basic idea of ​​what they want and says they just want to tell a unique story.

“We don’t know how to say it or what the experience should be, but we have an amazing team of creative directors, artists and designers who start the process by brainstorming an idea and opening the doors wide,” he said. Hettema said.

“At the start of a project, our creative team get together and just start building on each other’s ideas. And we try to make sure that every experience we offer is unique and special, ”he said.

Hettema adds that the company is receiving more and more calls from companies in industries such as theme parks, retail, catering and even the medical field, asking them to help create unique experiences for their clients. own clients.

One of these projects is the creation of a Crystal Lobby at the Galaxy Hotel in Macau.

“This is the entry point to a very spectacular complex and casino, and it is the place where some of the most prestigious VIP guests will enter,” said Hettema. “The client wanted to make sure their upscale guests really came into a spectacular lobby early in their experience, so we created this entire lobby that has a 20 foot gazebo in the center of the lobby, surrounded by fountains. The gazebo is made entirely of hand-cut European crystal, and above it is a huge dome. There are about half a million programmable LED lights all hidden in all of this crystal. It can be programmed to come to life with the fountains to really create a spectacular entrance experience for the guests, ”he said.

“So we’re really working in a wide variety of industries now to turn the things people do every day into memorable experiences,” Hettema said.

To learn more about the company, visit

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