by Sam Genneway
The real world feels alive when there is a certain messy vitality. A theme park succeeds when there is a lack of visual contradictions. It is virtually impossible to blend these qualities without creating a space that feels uncomfortable and undesirable.
Among other factors, architect Robert Venturi
came to the conclusion that successful and dynamic urban environments contain a “messy vitality over obvious unity.” Both Disney and venture agree that it is this quality that is necessary if a place is to feel authentic and resonate with meaning to the users. Such places are embedded with quality, variety and surprise. As a result, the environment puts you
slightly on edge and you feel more alert and alive in a delightful way. However, too much of this messy vitality and you will only encourage fear. There is a delicate balance.
When asked about this difference, Imagineer John Hench said, “Most urban environments are basically chaotic places, as architectural and graphic information scream at the citizen for attention. This competition results in disharmonies and contradictions that…cancel each other [out].” He warns, “A journey down almost any urban street will quickly place the visitor into visual overload as all of the competing messages merge into a kind of information gridlock.”
Hench suggested that the only way to design a successful themed environment
is to eliminate any visual contradictions. He defined a visual contradiction as “the active clutter that you see in the real world, which creates mixed messages, sets up conflicts, creates tension, and may even feeling threatening.” Hench taught his team, “If visual details disagree, guests experience active clutter, which has the same effect on the eye as a cacophony of noises has on the ear.”
By eliminating the visual contradictions, Walt had created a world that was safe, clean, and could not exist outside of the earthen berm that surrounded his park. What he created was a place that is not about fantasy but is about a sense of reassurance.
In Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks, Karal Ann Marling suggests, “One of the consistent hallmarks of Disney architecture is its refusal to be avant-garde: reassurance, on the contrary, means using the familiar conventions of real-world architecture – and then ‘plussing’ them until the audience has to smile.”
Although he was no fan, Robert Venturi does concede, “Disney is nearer to what people really want than anything architects have ever given them”.
Image: Walt Disney prepares to introduce “Man in Space,” the first of three space-themed television shows he produced in the 1950s. Copyright 2003, THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY.)