Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Adventures in Master Planning #2

Sometimes, you come across something in a theme park which strikes you as either exceedingly brilliant or exceedingly baffling. All of this is, of course, the domain of Master Planning, which (ostensibly) accounts for every angle, dimension and layout question which arises in a park. Master Planning can make a theme park revolutionary (Disneyland) or frustrating (Disney-MGM Studios). Even a company as large as WDI tries to keep everything in line, but sometimes…

Adventure Two: Three Car Pile-Up

WDI is justly proud of their transitory spaces. There's nothing quite like the way one area melts away into
another slowly and carefully and before you know it, you're in another land. This kind of manipulation of space and time is one of the theme park's most subtle and fascinating original arts: the exciting architectural mishmash of the World's Fairs becomes a cinematic dissolve you can actually walk through. The way, for example, you can walk from a Boston harbor to a European harbor and on into a German village between Liberty Square and Fantasyland is really fantastic no matter what your opinion of Orlando's ill-conceived Fantasyland.

The earliest example of this kind of innovative design is Harper Goff's 1955 Adventureland, which freely mixes and matches architectural styles and complex derivations thereof into an exoti
c but comfortable mishmash. This new kind of design (in 1955) really surpasses mere representation and enters the areas into something similar to cultural diffusion - although nobody will pretend one or the other is actually accurate, one style creates a culturally reinforced 'sense memory' while the other attempts a reconstruction. This is why The Magic Kingdom, a whimsical derivation of our cultural conceptions, mixes and matches while Animal Kingdom is very faithful and earnest (it is also arguably why Magic Kingdom is actually fun to be in).

The masterpiece, or perhaps just the thesis statement, of this is a fifty-foot stretch of architectural riot in Disneyland, which sits crouched at
the intersection of New Orleans Square, Frontierlad and Adventureland, along the waterfront of the Rivers of America, at the Riverbelle Terrace. By the mid-sixties, even before the construction of New Orleans Square began, this area, then the Aunt Jemima Pancake House, already represented a bizarre clash of architectural styles, with the Tyson Chicken Plantation Restaurant just up ahead, on the land currently occupied by the Haunted Mansion.

click for larger

This short transition space is not as graceful, perhaps, as later ones found in The Magic Kingdom, but it is remarkable. As one progresses past the Jungle Cruise boathouse and the treehouse, careful examination of the Adventureland upper stories reveal balconies which grow gradually increasingly complex. The Oriental rugs slung across the railings of the earlier upper terraces slowly gives way to bamboo shades, then shortly to decorative items such as birdcages. Small cupolas appear, belonging both to New Orleans and frontier boom towns. And the structure finally terminates in a glass sun room, constituting the main indoor dining area of the restaurant, which doesn’t look particularly like it could belong in Adventureland, Frontierland, or New Orleans. That it doesn’t ultimately appear out of place is a pretty remarkable feat of architectural persuasion on the part of these early Imagineers.

Which ultimately leads us to our adventure of this week, which is the utter failure of a transitory space, specifically, that crucial (because it is the only one) point in the Magic Kingdom where one land just ends and the other begins.

It's hard to fault the designers of Tommorowland and Fantasyland that their spaces didn't integrate: after all, the only reason this same transition works at Disneyland is because there's a 20-storey mountain between the two areas. Walt Disney World was slated for such a mountain at some point (after all, why else keep the Autopia and the Submarine Lagoon side by side if you weren't also going to drag in the Matterhorn?), but without it ever materializing, Orlando's transitory space was up the creek without a paddle. The area was aesthetically primed for it, too: Tomorrowland, the most parched area in the entire Magic Kingdom, certainly would've benefited from a few distant crashing waterfalls, and there's even a huge pedestrian pathway leading to where it would've been.

What does help the transition is large open spaces, which we lost in 2004 when the sub lagoon was demolished and filled in, the continuation of the Skyway, which we also lost recently, and a very spacious two-sided walkway between the Raceway and the Tomorowland Terrace. But space alone can't fix the problem. Perhaps in 1971, before the Fantasyland Art Festival / Enchanted Grove was built, the plain undecorated side wall of Mr. Toad integrated better, but I doubt it. And placed right between the two areas, making the whole transition even more problematic, is the one Fantasyland attraction least likely to bridge the gap between Fantasy and Future: The Mad Tea Party!

There's no two ways about this one: it's just a big awful mess. At least lessons were learned: when Fantasyland Anaheim was redone in the 1980's, swiping most of the conceptual and aesthetic advances which were formerly exclusive to Orlando, the teacups were relocated to alongside the icy slopes of the Matterhorn, which is of course the only reason they were ever placed where they are in Orlando anyway. And there, next to the mountain, it works perfectly. I only wish we could've seen the match as supervised by Marc Davis, Joe Fowler, Dick Irvine, John Hench and Roy Disney.


Tannerman said...

I never thought much about the transition in Orlando. Good points.

But where is this walkway that was supposed to go to the Matterhorn in WDW?

Biblio Adonis said...

Thanks for such an insightful, well-thought and well-written article.

You should be getting your Disney PhD soon, right?

FoxxFur said...

Locating the Matterhorn pathway: Map

It's the only path off the hub that doesn't directly lead to an eatery or land entrance; to the right of the castle shooting off in a North-Easterly direction and leading directly to the Mad Tea Party (in real life; this map is flakey).

Adonis: know any college which will actually give me a PhD in Disney? Can I test out of the cirriculum? I'd be more useful than what I have now! ;)

Biblio Adonis said...

I'm sure that Phoenix University On-Line offers something like that!

Maybe we can just infer upon you the title.

But first you would have to have an undergrad and grad degree.

BA in Theme Parks
MS in Disney Studies (MsDS)
PhD in Walt Disney World (PhDWDW)

Would we have to call you Dr. Foxfur?