The 'Maison de Pitoufeu' - the world of volcanoes for kids

The 'Maison de Pitoufeu' - the world of volcanoes for kids

The French Vulcania theme park is located in Saint-Ours-les-Roches in the Auvergne in the centre of a 30 km chain of scores of various types of dormant volcanic features that now provide a most unusual landscape.

As it welcomes something like 350,000 visitors every year, it is among the top ten amusement parks in the country. You can explore the 140 acre site on foot or on board the VolcanBul, a driver-less glass-covered electric vehicle guided by GPS. On the tour, visitors are transported back millions of years into the past when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and to a time when geysers were commonplace and a gigantic crater some 38 m in depth formed here during a volcanic eruption. There is even a balloon from which it is possible to obtain a bird's-eye view of the park and the landscape of the Chaîne des Puys.

Vulcania is the world's largest educational visitor park that has as its themes volcanoes and earth sciences. In the museum that extends to nearly 200 m2, the 'Bouleversements' ('Upheavals') exhibition awe-inspiringly illustrates the devastation that can be caused by volcanic eruptions. Similarly impressive is the high-definition film 'Planète Dévoilée' ('The Earth Revealed') that discloses all the secrets of our planet. Viewers are taken on a virtual journey on a 415 m2 screen to discover the imposing landscapes that have been formed due to volcanic activity. There is the dynamic 3D attraction 'Dragon Ride' that takes you right into the heart of a volcano's crater strapped to your interactive 'rider seat' (capable of 100 movements per second) where you will encounter dragons that will accompany you on an imaginary journey. Just as exciting is a 'dive' aboard the 'Abyss Explorer' bathyscaphe into the depths of the oceans where visitors are brought face-to-face with the extraordinary world of underwater volcanoes. During the perilous descent to 2500 m below sea level, they will experience turbulence while certain surprises will emerge from the darkness of the depths.

As these diversions may not be suitable for younger children, there are special attractions designed for them where they can also learn about our world. 'La cité des enfants' is a particularly popular exploration area for children aged 3 to 7 years. Here they can improve their sensory abilities by experimenting with water and light and playfully discover the laws of physics.

Present everywhere in Vulcania is Pitoufeu, a character shaped like a tiny volcano who is the mascot of the park. And this year, Pitoufeu has taken on an important new role. A new play feature, the 'Maison de Pitoufeu' has been constructed especially for him and his young admirers. It is designed to introduce children to the world of volcanoes by taking a different psychological approach. As might be expected, Pitoufeu lives in a volcano. Children are encouraged to enter into a role-playing scenario in which they visit Pitoufeu and explore his house. The concept for this new play attraction was created by designer Julien Bertévas of the Design Scenography Theme Parks Museum. Commissioned with the realisation of the project were SIK-Holz® of Brandenburg and Kompan France. Various meetings in Langenlipsdorf and France were necessary in both the planning and construction phases. For all those involved, this was both a unique and exciting project.

The core of the new play feature is a miniaturised volcano-like structure. Its dimensions - diameter approx. 7.5 m and height approx. 7.5 m - are similar to those of a small detached house. Pitoufeu's volcano house has three floors. On the ground floor are his kitchen and lounge. In the centre of this space there is a fireplace with glowing hot ‘magma’ that provides for a warm and cosy atmosphere. On the second floor is his bedroom while the third floor represents the attic, where he stores the things that he does not need every day. Pitoufeu himself is there on all three floors as a silhouette only, as the kind of negative retained image that indicates he was there a moment ago and has only just left. Lovingly crafted furniture and other objects can be found on all floors. In some cases, these incorporate interactive games, such as memory, block moving puzzles and sketch pads. The floors are linked by a wide spiral staircase. This offers children the option of moving rapidly from floor to floor while accompanying adults can move about as if this were a real home.

The volcano house itself is surrounded by a long ramp structure. The solid planking on part of this feature enables even wheelchair users to access the second floor of the house. A tunnel slide emerges from the third floor and terminates in a position where it animates children to run around the front of the house and access the ramp again. Various play features have also been installed below the ramp, such as play corners and memory games to promote role play and concentration while there are nets that can be climbed and rested in. The ramp is extended by a climbing and balancing structure that ends at an entrance to the volcano house. Thanks to the alternative ways of accessing the house from the ground and the ramp, shorter and more extensive interesting circular play activities can develop with differing difficulty levels. This means that children can face up to ever new challenges while even those with disabilities and adults can gain ready access to explore the volcano house.

The only way the whole could be made more exciting would be to include genuine volcanic eruptions! However, there is a buzzer that, when pressed, releases little water jets into the air that then explode while a fog machine generates smoke – the combined light and sound effects do to some extent emulate a volcanic eruption. The idea may already be there, but if Pitoufeu wants something more authentic, he is going to have to find the money!

 

Photo: SIK-Holzgestaltungs GmbH

 

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