In the last two decades, Walt Disney World Resort has become a showcase of fine architecture. When Michael Eisner became chairman of The Walt Disney Company in 1984, he sought out architects who would be challenging and never boring; Eisner has said he hopes the buildings Disney commissions will have "the beauty and strength to endure over time." Disney has become one of the world's leading corporate patrons of architecture.
At Walt Disney World Resort, more than a dozen world-renowned architects have designed a range of hotels, offices, recreational buildings and even gasoline service stations for Walt Disney World Resort. These buildings have garnered worldwide attention, as well as numerous architectural awards.
The architects hired to design for The Walt Disney Company come from three continents. Among them are winners of several of the world's most prestigious architectural accolades. As in Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom, the architecture of Disney's hotels, resorts, offices and service buildings also revolves around themes. In most cases, the themes are historical or geographic, though others refer to pop culture. Some of the architects have taken the idea of "themed architecture" quite literally; others have offered more abstract interpretations.
Here is a look at some of the architects who have been commissioned to work at Walt Disney World Resort:
Robert A. M. Stern of New York was the architect for Disney's Yacht Club Resort, Disney's Beach Club Resort, Disney's BoardWalk and the Casting Center. Disney's Yacht Club Resort and Disney's Beach Club Resort were designed to reflect two distinct American architectural styles found in 19th century resorts. The Yacht Club is inspired by New England architecture, while the Beach Club is derived more from Mid-Atlantic shore resorts. Disney's BoardWalk has a range of architectural styles and is intended to look like an urban seaside village that evolved over the first decades of the 20th century. The Casting Center is a modern-day version of a Venetian Palazzo.
Stern, who sits on The Walt Disney Company board of directors, is an author and dean of Yale University School of Architecture. He is also, along with New York architect Jaquelin Robertson, the master planner for Disney's town of Celebration and the designer of several buildings for Celebration.
The Japanese architect Arata Isozaki designed the Team Disney building, which was the winner of a 1992 National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects. Although many Disney buildings have obvious themes, this building is more abstract. Its theme, according to the architect, is "time." The centerpiece of the building is a spherical tower that houses a sundial. Isozaki, the architect for such major buildings as Olympic Stadium in Barcelona and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, has been the winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the most important architectural award given.
Michael Graves of Princeton, N.J., is the architect of the Walt Disney World Swan and Walt Disney World Dolphin hotels. The pyramid-shaped Dolphin, operated for The Walt Disney Company by Sheraton International, is topped by 63-foot-tall dolphins. The Swan, operated by Westin Resorts, has a gently curved roofline and is topped with 47-foot-high swans. Graves is also the architect of Celebration's post office. He is a professor of architecture at Princeton University and widely know both for his architecture and his design of products ranging from furniture to teapots to jewelry.
Arquitectonica of Miami designed Disney's Pop Century Resort and Disney's All-Star Resorts to reflect a number of America's most popular pastimes. Disney's Pop Century Resort, currently under construction, will send guests on a trip through American popular culture with buildings themed to decades from the 1900s to the 1990s. Cultural touchstones from each era -- a giant jukebox for the 1950s, for instance, will mark the entrances. Disney's All-Star Sports Resort has sections devoted to football, baseball, basketball, surfing and tennis. Disney's All-Star Music Resort celebrates jazz, calypso, country, rock-and-roll and the Broadway musical. Disney's All-Star Movies Resort features colossal images from favorite Disney films. The architects of Disney's All-Star Resorts used huge surfboards, referees' whistles, banjos, saxophones and other symbolic objects to ornament railings, cover columns and house stairwells.
Gwathmey Siegel and Associates were the architects for the convention facility at Disney's Contemporary Resort and for Bonnet Creek Golf Club. This New York firm, designers of the addition to the Guggenheim Museum and numerous private residences, is known for its modernist restraint. At Walt Disney World Resort, Gwathmey Siegel's buildings have clean geometric lines and a muted color palette.
Peter Dominick, a Denver architect, designed Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, inspired by the cultural splendor and beauty of an African wildlife reserve, and Disney's Wilderness Lodge, which is based on the historic wood-timber lodges of America's national parks.
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa was designed by Wimberly, Allison, Tong and Goo in conjunction with Walt Disney Imagineering. It was designed in the tradition of America's "Grand Hotels," based on such 19th century hotels as the Del Coronado in San Diego, Calif., and the now-demolished Ormond Beach Hotel in Ormond Beach, Fla.
The Orlando firm of Fugelberg Koch & Associates of San Diego was responsible for the design of Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney's Port Orleans Resort and Disney's Old Key West Resort. Each of these reflects distinct geographical styles of architecture taken from the old South and the islands of the Caribbean.
Downtown Disney West Side, a metropolis of restaurants, night clubs, theaters, attractions and merchandise shops, was master planned by David Rockwell of New York City.
The town of Celebration, which is adjacent to Walt Disney World Resort just off U.S. 192, also features buildings by Philip Johnson, the late Charles Moore, Cesar Pelli, William Rawn and Jaquelin Robertson. Johnson, Moore and Pelli are all recipients of the American Institute of Architect's highest honor, the Gold Medal. In addition, the Italian architect Aldo Rossi, also a winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, designed Celebration Place, the office complex on U.S. 192.
Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex, designed by David Schwarz of Washington, D.C., features "Florida Picturesque" architecture, with tall towers and seemingly endless archways in the fieldhouse and baseball stadium.
Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, designed under the direction of Walt Disney Imagineering by Graham Gund Architects of Cambridge, Mass., is based on the Spanish Colonial Revival Style. It includes three distinct "villages" and a giant Mayan pyramid. "Disney's Coronado Springs Resort is a community of distinct villages as rich and varied as the whole expanse of the Mexican landscape," explains Gund. (Gund was also the architect for the Disney Vacation Club in Vero Beach.)