At the turn of the century Watkins Glen was a thriving resort village - the jewel of the Finger Lakes Region of New York State. The Watkins Glen State Park was located near the village's resort hotels. Its spectacular 1.4 mile-long natural gorge was for many years the region's principal attraction. By the 1980's, however, the village of Watkins Glen was becoming dilapidated, and the State Park - still strong at 750,000 visitors per year - was the only attraction left.

A master plan for Watkins Glen and the surrounding county showed that a strengthened State Park with a more appealing and commodious Visitors' Center could become the linchpin of renewed tourism. Of prime importance in the plan was the idea of transforming the state park at night into a major attraction so that visitors would have the desire to extend their stay in the village to two days and a night, thus enhancing the local economy.

It was decided that a sound and light show would be this attraction. This submissions design has built the show into a widening of the walls of the Watkins Glen at a point where there is space for about 500 people-together. Access is by a stair carved out of the rock and across a stone bridge some 60 feet above a rushing stream. Since the shows are presented in the dark, the pathway's rock walls are equipped with dimmable recessed lighting.

The show, which is called TIMESPELL, tells the story of the 450 million-year history of the gorge. It is computer-controlled, and its extensive lighting stations and other technical hardware are hidden from view to ensure a natural environment for visitors during the day.

The entrance to the park is organized as an informal grouping of several pavilions - one for parking tickets, one for show tickets, one for food, and the largest reserved for exhibits, retail space, and rest rooms. Extending outwards from the ticket pavilion is an arbor that provides shade for dining. A food terrace occupies the area within the small grouping of pavilions and under the arbor.

An important objective for the Visitors' Center is the creation of an architecture that is sufficiently rustic by day that the park visitor is comfortable, yet exciting enough at night to communicate theatrical excitement. Many of the shapes and colors of this new architecture - especially its two-dimensional ornament - are derived from the traditional designs of the Seneca Indians, one of the five tribes of the Iroquois Nation and the earliest-known civilization to inhabit the gorge.

TIMESPELL and the revitalized Watkins Glen State Park Visitors' Center now draw 110,000 visitors per season to this small village and have succeeded in helping to turn around the village's troubled economy.