The Magical and Macabre World Of Mechanisms Comes To Life At Les Machines de L’Ile

Posted by Kate W on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Imagine waking up in a world where technology has sprung into magical, fantastical life. When you look out into your backyard, instead of seeing your family dog you behold an enormous, creaking metal elephant plodding by, rippling his wooden trunk as his giant leather ears sway in the breeze. It’s not as off-the-wall as it sounds. You can see this elephant – all 48 tons of her – coexisting with dozens of others mechanical animals at the haunting Les Machines de L’Ile amusement park in France.

Giant mechanical elephant interactive moving statue at Les Machines de L'Ile

Les Machines de L’Ile is not your typical amusement park. The designers behind it aren’t shelling out billions of dollars, trying to lure visitors to an already-bustling tourism hotspot or showcasing the latest in cutting-edge technology. Instead, this inventive park looks to the past to create attractions that are not run-of-the-mill thrill rides, but are instead moving, living, interactive art.

Mechanical crab moving art at Les Machines de L'Ile

Les Machine de L’Ile is the brainchild of La Machine, a street theater company that has been producing quirky mechanical creations around the world since 1999 as part of urban planning initiatives and public art exhibitions.  Now, with the support of local government, the troupe has made a home in northern France in the industrial port city of Nantes. Nantes had been a city in decay since its deserted dockyards had closed in 1987. Thanks to the efforts of La Machine though, Nantes has become a city of revitalization as this wondrous and whimsical park has sprung up from the once-dilapidated abandoned warehouses crowded along the riverfront. Since the park opened in 2007, it has evolved into one of the largest urban projects in Europe.

Children riding on a Jules Verne-inspired carousel at Les Machines de L'Ile

The creative creatures that wander this park are produced onsite in a mechanical animal “dream factory” that churns out everything from colossal flying herons to a spinning carousel displaying undulating deep-sea creatures. The factory itself is free and open to the public: visitors are welcome to come in and watch artists carve and weld their mythical monsters. They’ll have to buy a ticket to the park though in order to climb aboard one of the fully-realized massive, moving creatures.

Giant mechanical worm at Les Machines de L'Ile

What really sets Les Machines de L’Ile apart from other amusement parks is its essential message: it is not about growth, but instead it is about rebirth. The vintage styling of the wild mechanical animals has a real steampunk aesthetic, lending the park a retro wonderland vibe. The designers take their inspiration from historic visionaries like Leonardo da Vinci and Jules Verne so that the mystical world they have created feels both ancient and forward-thinking. The park’s co-artistic director Francois Delaroziere sums up their vision neatly: “to conceive a city through a common imagination, in which the public becomes an actor.”

There are a lot of concepts at play when we envision the future of theme park design, but we have always believed that story is the true core to any theme park concept. The Les Machines de L’Ile park is full of unusual creatures inspired by some of the greatest stories of our time: even better, it provides a place for you to tell a story of your own.

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