Urban Design: Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland

by on June 7, 2009 9 Comments

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Sam Gennaway, an Urban Planner who runs the fantastic SamLand’s Disney Adventures blog. This is part four of the INTRODUCTION TO THE URBAN DESIGN SERIES of posts he’ll be contributing here. Sam visits Disneyland on a frequent basis and toured with the Unofficial Guide team on our recent Disneyland Trip. You can also follow Sam on twitter: @samlanddisney

Urban Design is the process of creating places and policies that lead to environments that are alive, respect people, and have meaning.  When the designer gets it right, that place exceeds in its performance to the relationship of its purpose.  This series is where my interest in the Disney parks collides with my professional curiosity as an urban planner.

We begin this trip by transporting you from the comfort of Main Street USA to the exotic lands of Adventureland. Let’s start by taking a look around the Hub.  Imagine you are standing at the Partners statue.

One design tool used throughout the Magic Kingdom is what Disney Imagineers call the “wienie” also know at a view terminus to the rest of the design world.  A wienie is a feature placed on a distant spot to add character or to provide a memorable element as a tool for orientation.

At the Magic Kingdom, the designers continually use wienies and landscaping to set the mood.  The purpose of these icons is not only to start your imagination but also to move your feet.

For example, look deep into Tomorrowland.  Beyond the strange rocks your eyes immediately look upward at the Astro Orbiters spinning high above the TTA station. Fantasyland combines the imposing presence of the Castle with the shimmering reflections of Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel spinning through the portal.  Finally, across the Liberty Square bridge is a tower that hides the tall smokestacks of the Liberty Belle.

Of course, by now I hope you are asking “what’s the wienie for Adventureland?”  Well, none. This is the only land adjacent to the Hub that does not feature a wienie. What would an adventure be if you knew what was beyond the bridge?

Back to the movie I call a walk through the Magic Kingdom.

A common film technique that establishes the scene and provides context at the beginning of many films is the long shot.  The long shot works because your eye captures a glimpse of color and motion and soon organizes them into shapes.  Those shapes should evolve into simple storytelling icons that set the stage for what is to come later.

Adventureland’s opening shot is different then the other lands. Instead of a wienie, the designers used landscaping, typological architectural details, and a path that winds and provides only an obstructed view to heighten the suspense.  Putting you on edge even in a very friendly Disney way.  The art direction for the landscape design is recall exotic ports of call that don’t really exist except in the movies.  The area combines elements of Polynesia, Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and even an Arabian Bazaar.  The extensive plantings obscure the edges and make the land seem larger than it really is.  Adds that infinite horizon necessary for adventure.

Adventureland unfolds slowly, subtly, and gradually.

You can see this right at the entrance to Adventureland. Here you can see how the designers use the language of iconic typological architectural details to create the same effect as a cross-dissolve in a film.  In both cases, a successful application means you should experience a smooth transition from one scene (themed area) to another.

A great example of this tool is to take a close look at the Crystal Palace.  From the Hub, it appears to be a grand Victorian building modeled after historic examples like the Crystal Palace in New York, the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.  But something happens as you cross the bridge.

As you make your way across the bridge from the Hub to Adventureland and the landscape subtly transforms just like a cross dissolve shot in a movie. The organization of the architectural details and the type of plant materials change and the building begins to mimic a tropical hot house.  The Imagineers take you from small town America to the jungles of your imagination by using the complete vocabulary of Victorian architecture.

This was made easier because Victorian was the dominant style in America of the time period represented by Main Street as well as 19th Century British Colonial rule.  By combining the history of architecture, cinematic tricks, innovative use of materials, and theme appropriate landscaping, the transition and the illusion are complete.

In our next article we cross the bridge and entered the heart of Adventureland.  Before we go too far we must stock up on Dole whip. I will pick up the rest of the tour next week. Always appreciate the comments and visits to my site.

Posted on June 7, 2009

9 Responses to “Urban Design: Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland”

  • OK, there’s no wienies in Adventureland, but as you mention at least there’s Dole Whip!

  • by euripedes923 on June 8, 2009, at 11:09 am EST

    Just as I feared.
    These are excellent summaries of the reams of information long-available to any well-read Disney fan. It takes nothing away from the gentleman who is editing this information into blog format, but I do wish it wasn’t being touted as anything other than what it is. I enjoy reading it, and I can provide the footnotes from each of the sources from which he has culled this interesting information–sometimes line for line. I’m sure first-time readers find it fascinating; I also enjoy taking a trip down Memory Lane. I just find the constant reference to his Urban Design degree to be as disingenuous as, for instance, TourGuideMike’s constant reminders that he used to work at WDW.
    Please keep up the good work, but in all fairness please also respectfully cite your sources.

    • If I am not mistaken, I think the only time I really plug what I do for a living is in the introduction as I set my definition of the standard for excellence. Beyond that, my goal was to try and tie all of the different observations from many sources, including my own personal take on things, to enhance the experience for those who are not quite a immersed in the literature. If this sparks somebody to pick up one of the books and read them then great. People have to start someplace.

      As for new, deep thinking, I invite you to visit Samlanddisney.blogspot.com in July (every Wednesday) when I start to apply the patterns from A Pattern Language and The Nature of Order in an attempt to explain why it is some things work and some things don’t. I can guarantee nobody else has mined that territory.

      Thanks for reading.

      Sam Gennawey

    • euripedes923, point made and remade. I’m enjoying these and I’m sure others are as well. If your not then there is no need to continue reading and responding to the blog entries. Thank you.

  • bobaloo000 – well said! I am also very much enjoying reading the urban planner’s take on WDW. Thanks, Sam! I read material on this website for entertainment, information, and a touch of vicarious, magical escapism. I won’t be using any of the blogs as sources for a dissertation — so I’m quite content to have fun with them! Come on, folks! Think Pixie Dust!

  • Thanks Chris and bobaloo000. I appreciate the kind words. Through the summer I will be walking through all of the lands (well maybe not ToonTown Fair just don’t think that area was done very well and I may substitute it with Toontown in Disneyland because it is far superior). As for euripedes923, if you have a certain intellectual path you would like me to follow, just let me know. I am new to this blogging thing and always looking for new material. The stuff coming in July should be a good brain twister for you.


  • First of all I’d like to say, great article! I’ve got a little question bothering me, I really enjoy the design of your site and tried to download the same layout on my WP site. Anyhow, there is some kind of weird coding error in the sidebar. Do you have any hints, which settings are you using? Please PM me on Twitter @PattayaGuru or per e-mail.

  • You cannot believe how long ive been googling for something like this. Browsed through 9 pages of Google results without finding anything. First page of bing. There was this…. Gotta start using that more often

  • Thanks for finding us Tamra. You can find essays like this in three different places. Here on Touringplans.com, a visit to Samland’s Disney Adventures (www.samlanddisney.blogspot.com)or pick up a copy of the new Color Companion to the Unofficial Guide book.