Saturday, January 31, 2009

From Paris to the Provinces

There's an intriguing little store in the France pavilion at EPCOT which offers nearly singly a noteworthy representation of what themed design can do, subtly shifting from one aesthetic to another in a shop which comprises only a few rooms. On the Parisian side of the pavilion, near the Palais du Cinema, the store is called Les Vins de France. Around the other side of the pavilion, which is more patterned after the Provinces, another entrance to it is labeled L'Espirit de la Provences. It turns out that both are right, and if the term "fractional architecture" can be used to refer to WED's habit of squishing together geographically diverse architectural styles into a coherent-feeling whole, then this shop is a "fractional interior", one of the first I've found.

The wine side of the store has a more cosmopolitan flavor, with chandeliers and lots of metal adornments and heavy, curved, plastered arches. There is a wine bar here and the floor is wood grain. Although both sides of the store are cluttered, most of the items contained in this section are held in little metal racks and tables. There is an organized chaos.

This is the Cave a Vin, and is the only time we still see bricks in the store. Although there is a slight rural flavor in the light fixtures, the ceiling and floor here, the presentation is more contained and organized than in the Provinces section.

Notice that the ceiling around the chandelier by the Parisian entrance is hanging in a plastered white modern alcove, whereas once through this first arch, the walls and decor retain their cosmopolitan atmosphere but the lighting fixture immediately switches to this more provincial double gas lamp (still a relative extravagance). The ceiling immediately acquires timbers, although these timbers are lacquered and detailed.

The Provincial section's ceiling, for comparison, with rough-hewn timbers and the less citified single gas lamps. The walls in this section are subtly aged and lack the stenciled adornments of the Parisian section. If the Paris section was artfully cluttered, the Provinces are go for broke. Most of this stuff is for sale, and is so artfully arranged that purchasing something feels like you're disrupting something you shouldn't!

This cookbook display is the last of the metal racks. The rest of the store's items are contained in wooden shelves and on tables, all heavily distressed.

The original concept of World Showcase, as envisioned for Disneyland, was a clash of styles and cultures placed next to each other haphazardly. The distances placed between the EPCOT Center pavilions improves the concept because by isolating the featured cultures into pockets, the architectural traditions of each individual country can be abstracted into more meaningful patterns through the use of fractional architecture. I highly doubt that there is a term for this practice in Imagineering besides something like "fantasy architecture" but it has been with Disneyland since nearly the very start. There are other remarkable examples of fractional architecture: the Riverbelle Terrace and Disneyland, the Adventureland Veranda here in Orlando, and there are examples of transitional architecture, like the Crystal Palace. There are many store interiors which change character as you go through them: the Germany pavilion at EPCOT and Hollywood Blvd at MGM-Studios are good example, where every new arch brings a new space. In cinematic terms, as you pass through each portal between stores in that arrangement, there is a "cut", bringing you to a new place. If those stores are like hard cuts, then this little store in France is a slow fade, as one aesthetic tapers out and another takes over. It is a remarkable achievement, and one which is hardly ever noticed ad commented on.