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Samland Visits the Studios – Streets of America & More

by on January 25, 2010

Samland continues to visit Walt Disney World land by land.  Today he takes a walk through the Studios Streets of America area and a look at Commissary Lane.  Last week was video week with a Disneyland video week with the best place to eat a Dole Whip and the Main Street party line phones.


The idea for this park was launched in 1985 and for the first time a Disney theme park was opened merely to fit a business need and be a model of controlled growth in reaction to anticipated demand. At the time, this half-day park was designed to compliment a visit to Typhoon Lagoon and Pleasure Island. Just as important was dual function of being a real production studio with three sound stages, production offices, a postproduction audio and video facility; it’s own wardrobe, property, camera, and lighting departments. The facilities featured glass walls so that visitors could peek inside a working movie-making facility. Projects shot on the back lot include Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, Passenger 57 and TV shows like The Mickey Mouse Club and Wheel of Fortune.

The building facades use a cinematic trick known as forced perspective. This technique is used throughout Walt Disney world. Legendary Imagineer John Hench defines forced perspective as “a form of one-point linear perspective in which receding space is compressed by exaggerating the proximity of the implied vanishing point to the viewer”. Forced perspective is the design pattern that gives buildings the appearance of greater height and scale. It is why the castle looks so grand and Everest looks so tall. In the back lot area, it allows the designers to fit in the New York or San Francisco skylines in such a small space.

Playing with scale is also a feature of the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set. Realizing there wasn’t enough to do for small children, the Imagineers worked in record time to design and fabricate the attraction. This type of stage area is an example of another cinematic trick used in Disney films.


Within the walls of the ABC Commissary is a 50-foot Art Deco mural of the Studios most iconic buildings. They include the front gate, the Animation Courtyard gate, and the entrance to the Chinese Theater, the American Idol Experience theater, and others.

One of the Imagineering tools is what they call “Atmospheric” architecture. The Imagineers define Atmospheric architecture as “creating the illusion that visitors are outdoors, although they are actually indoors.” The first application in a Disney theme park was the Blue Bayou within Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean. EPCOT has the San Angel Inn within the Mexican Pavilion. The Imagineers took this concept to the extreme with the Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater Restaurant.

Urban Design: Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland

by on December 14, 2009

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.

DESIGN: A walk through WDW’s Tomorrowland – Part 2

by on July 27, 2009

If you like what you see please visit SamLand’s Disney Adventures for more about the parks history, design, and touring tips.

Last week I compared the site plan for Tomorrowland to Main Street USA. This week I am going to focus on a couple of related items. First, I will talk about the level of motion that is unique to Tomorrowland. Then I will shift gears and talk about where this level of motion came from – Tomorrowland 1.0.

One of the signature hallmarks of Tomorrowland is all of the vehicles moving about. Moving vehicles dominate the land at all levels. On the ground plain, constantly queuing up are the cars of the Speedway. Up one level are the TTA trains. The TTA trains continue throughout the land and become a thread that ties many of the Tomorrowland structures together. Flying high overhead are the Astro Orbiter rockets.

When the Carrousel of Progress is open and spinning even the buildings add to the movement. And not long ago, you had the gondolas of the Skyway passing overhead. And we can’t forget Push, the talking trashcan. There is no other spot in the Magic Kingdom with such diversity of vehicles on display.

This movement is due to the original Tomorrowland. Tomorrowland 1.0 lived until 1994. In the relatively brief history of the Magic Kingdom, only Tomorrowland has received a significant makeover. Adventureland and Frontierland have been expanded as attractions have been added. Toontown Fair is a temporary idea made permanent. But only one land has had a sequel – Tomorrowland.

What you see today is the Imagineers solution to a longtime vexing problem. How do you create the world of tomorrow when tomorrow happens so fast? What happens when the design and construction process takes so long that by the time the project is done it isn’t relevant anymore?

Don’t believe me that this is a real problem? Need an example of what happens when you lose this battle? Been to DisneyQuest lately?

One of the hallmarks of Disney design is that each land feels like a “place”. And by place I will use the definition drafted by architect Charles Moore. He once stated that “Place is the projection of the image of civilization onto the environment”.

Disneyland’s first Tomorrowland (1955) was set in 1986, the return year for Haley’s Comet. It was updated in 1967 to no specific date but the place was the “world on the move”. The Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland 1.0 was the next generation of that concept. But 20 years later the “world on the move” was looking dated.

So the solution in 1994 was to rethink the entire question.

Instead of projecting a place set into the future, why not just create a fantasy place influenced by visions of the future. The Imaginers decided to borrow elements from Disneyland Paris’s Discoveryland and create “a future that never was”. This created a place that is less about anticipating the future than creating a more timeless setting. To this end, the Imaginers borrowed heavily from predictions of Jules Verne, HG Wells, and Buck Rodgers to create a “Spaceport”; a place where visitors from throughout the universe come and go. In some respects Tomorrowland is the first “postmodern” land and that idea would be amplified at Disney’s California Adventure.

When the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Tomorrowland was a bright shiny optimistic vision of the future. It was a world of motion. Gleaming white spires greeted you and the future looked so bright that you had to wear shades (that white paint). Today, Tomorrowland has become sci-fi Fantasyland. The emphasis is on the familiar instead of the challenge of what could be. Even the most forward-looking attraction – the Carousel of Progress – is presented like it is a museum.

Tomorrowland is clearly organized, a very entertaining space to sit and take a break, and brings back a nostalgic moment for those old enough to remember when…

DESIGN: A walk through WDW’s Tomorrowland – Part 1

by on July 20, 2009

Today we continue our walk through the Magic Kingdom, this time focusing on Tomorrowland. If you like what you see here I invite you to visit SamLand’s Disney Adventures.

For this little trip through Tomorrowland, I want to focus on three things that have captured my imagination. First, I have noticed that the site plan for Tomorrowland is really a modern take on the same plan for Main Street USA. Second, the land has a kinetic energy that is unique in the Magic Kingdom. Finally, I am fascinated by the fact that Tomorrowland is the only land to receive a major makeover in this park.

This trip will take us from small town America in the 1900s to the deepest edge of Space (Mountain that is). Let’s start from the Partners statue in the Hub and turn to the east.

Before we step across that bridge and enter the future, let’s spend a moment and recall the Main Street experience. My hope is that you will also see some of the design and crowd flow patterns repeating.

You get to Main Street USA from the entry plaza by passing through a natural barrier. In this case, it is the berm that holds the railroad tracks. You emerge on the other side in Town Square. Town Square funnels down to the narrow Main Street. Main Street is framed by the buildings and energized by the activity generated by the storefronts. The degree of life is enhanced by the presence of Cinderella Castle at the view terminus. This design pattern is known as a “wienie” in the Disney lexicon. At the end of the corridor is a strong central space with attractions radiating out like the spokes on wheel.

Compare Main Street to Tomorrowland. The gardens on the east side of the Hub are much larger than those on the west side. Unlike the more subtle entries to Liberty Square and Adventureland, Tomorrowland dominates the landscape. The Tomorrowland structures frame the open space much like the buildings on Town Square and this creates a more urban space than what you see on the west side.

You cross over a very wide bridge. The pathway and bridge is the same right-of-way as Main Street sans the sidewalks. Much wider than the paths to the other lands. You have to cross over a natural barrier. In this case, it is the Swan boat moat.

Once you have passed under the ceremonial gateway and over the bridge you enter a narrow corridor of buildings. Instead of storefronts enlivening the space, the constant motion of the TTA buzzing overhead and the odd articulation of the structural materials creates energy. These structural elements also provide much needed shade.

What draws you forward, all the way from the Hub, is the Astro Orbiters flying high above the land. Like Cinderella Castle, this siren call beckons all from the Hub. Once you have made it to the other end of the corridor you end up in a central hub space with attraction radiating out like spokes on a wheel. All of the entryways are oriented toward the TTA platform just like all of the lands are oriented toward the Partners statue.

The reality is this is all about crowd flow. The site plan for Tomorrowland is influenced by Main Street and functions much the same way. Those objectives include creating a strong gateway that establishes that you have passed into a different place (and time). Both lands draw guests through the space by a strong iconic element at the end of a vista. Each land uses the architecture to create corridors that reinforce the significance of the icon at the end of the street. And each land deposits the guest into a large central open space. Once you are in that space you can make choices as to which adventures you wish to pursue.

Each land is different. Adventureland is a winding path that leads to a plaza area. Liberty Square is a large outdoor room. Frontierland is a strip mall facing a river. Main Street and Tomorrowland are the classic corridors. But Tomorrowland has one thing that the other lands don’t – the kinetic motion of a world on the move. More on that later.

DESIGN: A walk through WDW’s Liberty Square through Frontierland – The Finale

by on July 12, 2009

Part One is here
Part Two is here
Part Three is here

Of course there is this and much more at SamLand’s Disney Adventures.

I am always amazed when I walk through Liberty Square and Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom. You have to credit the Imagineers for pulling off the impossible. Just like Liberty Square, Frontierland is designed to be a journey through time and distance. The story line will take us from St. Louis in the early 1840s to a ghost town after the gold rush boom in the 1880s. They have created a three-dimensional, immersive environment that moves you through time and space. And most people never even know it as they run to BTMRR or Splash Mountain.

The story of Frontierland begins where Liberty Square ends. Liberty Square is an impression of the idealized vision of Colonial America using design elements from the thirteen original colonies. That provides the eastern anchor for our journey. Frontierland celebrates the great westward expansion that followed the Louisiana Purchase.

The first building we come to in Frontierland is the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon. This is a movie interpretation of a grand show palace that would be common in St. Louis in 1840. St. Louis became known as the western gateway and the starting point for many pioneers.

For the next stop we move west to the Colorado Rockies. The time is now the 1850s. Here we find a northwoods union hall. If you look inside you can see one of my all time favorites, the Country Bear Jamboree. Oh I miss this one at Disneyland. Pooh, puh! While waiting for the show notice the marks on the floor. Those would be bear claw scratches.

As you go west, notice how each building uses the short hand of iconic design elements, materials, and different architectural styles to enhance the time travel story. There are clues to the year many of the building facades were built if you look closely enough. For example, the Town Hall was built in 1867. Pecos Bills Saloon is dated 1878. Texas James Slaughter owned the Frontier Trading Post. He was a real life person and Disney TV character who was famous in the 1870s.

Our journey continues westward to the great desert Southwest of the 1860s-70s. The designers use carefully chosen plant material and Spanish Mission architecture to recreate the cinematic image of a western town. Lots of Zorro influence. You know the use of Spanish influenced architecture wasn’t just serendipity. The designers had a problem they had to solve.

Dial up Google Earth and look at the aerial photo of the Magic Kingdom. You will notice that the west side of the park is basically one giant building with two different personalities. The south side faces Adventureland and the building facades enhance that theme. The north side facades advance the Frontierland theme. There are a couple of spots where you go from one realm to another. The designers have spent a great deal of thought on how to make those transitions very smooth.

In the movies, it is known as the cross-dissolve. A good example of this is the transition from Frontierland to Adventureland.

Pecos Bills Café’s architecture is in the Spanish Mission style, which was popular in the Southwest desert region of that period. However, those same Spanish influenced design cues were also appropriate for El Pirata Y el Perico right across from the Pirates of the Caribbean. If you are going to Pirates, you will be going from North America to a Caribbean island one hundred years earlier. The effect is subtle and not startling. But if they didn’t do it you would notice that something is just not right.

Now we take a little detour from our westward journey to visit the Deep South in the 1860s. This is the setting for Splash Mountain. At Splash Mountain, we can see how the Imagineers try to create a sense of anticipation through environmental design. They do it in a way that would be familiar to any filmmaker.

When you to the movies, before most feature attractions are previews. There is also a preview when you pass by Splash Mountain. The larger path takes you past the drop. This view exaggerates the height of the drop as the logs fall into the Briar Patch. There is another path, a boardwalk that is set beyond the drop. Here, not only can we see the horror on the guests faces as they drop but also we can see the happy payoff as they laugh and feel alive. These pathways help bond the viewers with the participants.

Our final stop on this westward journey is the little mining ghost town of Big Thunder. The peaks of Monument Valley influence the mountains within Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The designers have used forced perspective to make them seem larger.

Since our journey took us from the east coast to the west coast, it is appropriate that the last thing you see in Frontierland is the Disneyland Railroad train station. The Rivers of America and the Liberty Belle are a symbolic link between Liberty Square and Frontierland. This waterway recognizes the importance of rivers and canals to the start of the American expansion. The Frontierland train station represents the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the end to the great expansion.

There is one more design element that is unique in Frontierland. It is the use of multiple pathways to provide variety to your experience. You can walk along the raised wooden plank sidewalk along the building facades. Or you can walk in the street with the herd of people passing through. You can also get a taste of the rural life by walking along the boardwalk at the edge of the Rivers of America. Not only does this provide a set of options for the guests but it creates huge capacity to move people without looking like a giant sidewalk.

I mentioned at the beginning of this series that Liberty Square and Frontierland become a time machine. They take you back to real places at specific times. To take a ride on the Time Machine start on Main Street USA. The time is around 1900. Cross the bridge toward Liberty Square and you go back in time to the founding of the nation. The path toward the west will take you to the 1880s. Get on the train and exit at Main Street. You are back in the 1900s. Talk about the Grand Circle Tour.

Urban Planner Walk Through Liberty Square To Frontierland – Part 3

by on July 5, 2009

Hello. This is continuation of my walk through the various lands in the Magic Kingdom. This week we see how Liberty Square and Frontierland share a a lot of things in common but remain distinctly different in feel.

For more of this type of stuff I invite you to visit SamLand’s Disney Adventures.

To see Part One go Here.
To see Part Two go Here.

From an architectural point of view, Frontierland is nothing special. Covering the basic industrial sheds that house the attractions is a thin veneer of shops. This design technique is called the “decorated shed” and was identified back in the early 1960s by architect Robert Venturi. The decorated shed is a way of adopting the tactics from commercial strip buildings by applying signs, materials, iconic and familiar architectural elements so that you can enrich the symbolic content and create something memorable.

Today you see this everywhere and usually very poorly done. But this was a new idea when Disneyland was first developed and the Magic Kingdom was to take it to the next level. What Frontierland does really well is to take the ordinary – the decorated shed – and use it to create an extraordinary urban environment.

I like to think about Frontierland as a big outdoor room. Posing as the southern wall are the building facades of Frontierland. This would almost be a strip mall if it weren’t for the careful attention to detail. Instead of flat storefronts, each provides depth with uneven surfaces and changing materials. The wooden walkway provides a different sound underneath the feet and they act as a buffer between the hustle and bustle of the main concrete walkway and the private interiors of the stores. The shallow storefronts allow one to peek in and see what is on the back wall. Very inviting. In fact, if we could just line big box stores like Wal-Mart with local goods and services in this manner we would create more livable places all over America.

Our northern wall is Tom Sawyer Island and the Rivers of America. You might even think of this wall as our big window looking out to the frontier. The island shows some development and a lot of life when kids are running around. But it is beautiful open space that has matured into something so much more. Remember this was all by design and planted for certain effect. The water is wide and occasionally the Liberty Belle passes us by on her journey to the backcountry.

Off to the side are the rafts spinning back and forth between the island and the mainland. But it is a lonely river. Only the rafts and the Liberty Belle inhabit this domain. I am spoiled by the addition of the canoes and the Columbia to Disneyland’s river. I miss the tipsy Keel Boats. Progress means traffic.

The east wall is the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon and a corner view of Liberty Square. Liberty Square looks so small when you turn back. This visual effect is another reminder of the American past and the story that links the two lands. The western wall is a path that leads to nowhere and the deflected view of Splash Mountain. Once upon a time this would have been the site of the Western River Expedition.

What is the Western River Expedition you ask? It could have been the next step beyond what was delivered in the Pirates of the Caribbean. When the Magic Kingdom first opened it did not have the big Disneyland hit attraction. The thought was the Caribbean was too close so New Orleans Square or Pirates would not be exotic enough. Instead, the entire area that now contains Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad plus the train station would be under one giant building. This building would be called Thunder Mesa Mountain and contain a dark ride second to none designed by the master himself, the legendary Marc Davis. This light hearted romp through the American west would have been a boat ride featuring Native Americans doing a rain dance that causes it to rain, a bank robbery where even the horses wear masks, the prairie dogs and buffaloes that eventually made it to Epcot, gunfights, and the town of Dry Gulch featured in BTMRR. Oh yeah, the show building would have been covered by the rollercoaster.

Sadly, the early visitors just clamored for Pirates. So the park quickly tossed together the Reader’s Digest version that exists today and only built the rollercoaster. What could have been? Back to our story about the time trip through Frontierland.

Below you are a variety of surfaces that divide this long narrow room into multiple experiences. Earlier I highlighted the way the wooden walkways along the buildings interacted with both the interiors but help frame the boundary of the main walkway. In both Main Street USA and Tomorrowland, the buildings are strictly built out to a certain line. Within Frontierland, the main pathway is framed by the irregular alignment of the buildings and the little median of trees and carts on the other side. This median creates an opportunity for that “path less traveled” with the boardwalk. You might say that the wooden pathways define civilization. In context to the times, the finest roads in America were the plank roads. Within this tight corridor you are provided with three different pathways with very different experiences.

My particular favorite path is the boardwalk along the river. You would think the attraction of water would be so strong as to make this a congested pathway. But whether it is the visual obstruction caused by median of the trees and carts or the way it seems to jog in and out and not look like a short cut, people seem to stay away and follow the rest of the herd on the hot concrete. I love this element. They have carved out a series of connecting small rooms where one can take ownership over their spot even for a few brief moments. Plus you have the water with the Liberty Belle and the action on the other side to entertain you. It is nice on this edge of the frontier.

And this river is the perfect tool to assist us on our journey through time by connecting the original colonies to the westward expansion. The river is always reminding you that you are always on the edge of the wilderness. The story is moved along by the walkways and spaces that are framed by iconic buildings. And the organizing principle for the buildings in both lands is the same which makes this combination of elements unique in the Magic Kingdom.

Next week we will see how the buildings that hide the attractions – those decorated sheds – are used to tell the story of the American western expansion.

We will finish this tour next week.  Thanks for reading.

Urban Design: Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland Part 2

by on June 14, 2009

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 five 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.

Time to complete our journey through the Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. For more fun Disney stuff I invite you to visit and see more about the design, history and touring tips for the North American parks.

My philosophy is that 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.

Last week we walked from the Hub and entered Adventureland. Today we will continue our journey with the hopes that we will be safe from singing birds, spitting camels, lions, tigers, and…well I guess there are no bears. But trust me, they are really, really close.

Once over the bridge, the path through Adventureland turns and meanders. You have buildings framing one side and the jungle and the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse defining the other side. The use of forced perspective is used effectively throughout this area and really adds to mood.

To show you how concerned the Imagineers are with the details, a popular story in some of the books is how they dealt with what could be a visual contradiction of major proportions.

There is a tower on the building with the miserable Tiki Room show. At the top are heads of water buffaloes. This tower is also visible from Frontierland. From that side the heads appear to be bison and the primitive structure looks like something from the western plains. Very clever.

Through Disney magic you make your way out of the jungle and land in an Arabian Bazaar. At the center of this sub-district is the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. This Dumbo clone acts as a strong center element and is nicely supported by the little storefronts. The attraction is also a clever way to reuse old stuff. The camels spitting water are leftovers from a parade.

Your journey continues as we past by the Jungle Cruise. I like how the grade change between the main path as you head toward Pirates and the way to the Jungle Cruise makes the Family Swiss Robinson Treehouse look even more impressive. The lower level area also creates a well-defined and well themed waiting area for a very popular attraction.

But it is time to move along. And up ahead would be another wienie – the fortress from the Spanish Main. The plants go from being unrestrained to a more formal organization within planters. I have read many accounts on line to suggest this area has change greatly over the years. It sounds like the area was even more successful.

I do know that the whole Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom were an after thought. They didn’t plan on having this attraction in Florida. However, the demand was so strong after the opening of the park they caved in and killed what could have been a monumental attraction – Thunder Mesa and The Western River Expedition – and installed the Reader’s Digest version of Pirates of the Caribbean.

The plaza in front of Pirates of the Caribbean is consistent with the traditional element in most towns created during the great age of Spanish exploration. The Plaza is all hardscape holding back the jungle and sets the mood for the attraction. It also provides the functional benefit of comfortable and ample space for the queue.

Beyond Pirates is another clever example of that cinematic cross dissolve effect that creates a transformation from one themed land to another that we saw as we entered Adventureland.

Keep an eye on the buildings to your right on your way to Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. On the northwest side (Adventureland), the buildings reflect the Spanish architectural style found throughout the Caribbean. On the southwest side (Frontierland), the designers use the same architectural typological vocabulary and reinterprets them as Spanish influenced buildings that were typical of the America Southwest during the 1850s.

This use of accurate details may seem excessive but it achieves the “plausible impossible” and created the equivalent of a cross-dissolve transition from the jungles of Adventureland to the deserts of the American west. There are no visual contradictions that would spoil your journey.

Coming soon will be American history told in three dimensions Disney style – from Liberty Square to Frontierland.

Urban Design: Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland

by on June 7, 2009

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.