Urban Design: Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland

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I have talked about some of the urban design concepts used to create the immersive environments of the Magic Kingdom. You can visit Samland to find many more entries. Today, I will be visiting Fantasyland.

Fantasyland is at the heart of the Magic Kingdom and it represents a chance to visit with some of our favorite Disney characters. To get there you must pass through the gates of Cinderella Castle, which is influenced by French Gothic castles and its’ ornamental style based on French chateaus. The castle is the only fully realized; 4-sided building that is not a spinning ride in Fantasyland. Behind the castle walls you enter a medieval courtyard surrounded by a Gothic village. This village has been decorated for a celebration.

In creating Fantasyland, the Imagineers faced a design dilemma. They wanted to recreate elements from architecture found in the Disney cartoons but they feared chaos as the variety of styles might collide. The solution was to wrap the facades of English Tudor, French Gothic, and other styles with decorative elements from a medieval tournament. These elements include tents, flags, and banners, and supports that look like lances.

In 1972, in a landmark book about architecture entitled Learning from Las Vegas, the authors opined that the use of vernacular architecture and iconography, masking the “ugly and ordinary” structures would satisfy regular people even while it frustrated architects. This idea became known as the “decorated shed” and went on to become the foundation for the Post-Modern architectural style. Fantasyland is perhaps the finest example of the “decorated shed” and the Imagineers were the pioneers in developing this innovation which in turn has had a significant impact on the public realm outside of the parks.’

From guest’s point of view, the courtyard appears to be a collection of small stores and larger attraction queues. In reality, as you can see from an aerial photo, the land is made up of three very large buildings that are wrapped in thematic materials. This concept of wrapping buildings was relatively new at the time the Magic Kingdom was built and has become very common today. The design details along the roofline of the buildings surrounding the courtyard support the design elements of Cinderella Castle and confirm that you are within the walls of the castle.

A lot has changed over the years but the facades have remained relatively the same. Winnie the Pooh took over the lease from Mr. Toad and the audio-animatronic Mickey Mouse Revue kept with the same great idea and morphed into the 3D film Mickey’s Philharmagic. The loss of the lagoon for the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea submarines has greatly weakened the boundaries of the courtyard. The proposed Fantasyland expansion may go a long way in repairing that damage.

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Posted on December 14, 2009
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