True to the Original Vision

It's been a year now since I wrote a new post regarding Plan Alpha, my first cut at a plan to gradually reinvent Epcot into a modern/updated version of the park that was, holding true to the original vision of Epcot Center, while bringing it into the modern era.

There are a lot of things I could point to that would explain why I kind of fell off writing about it.  It started with having less time to write, more work responsibilities keeping me later at work on most days, reducing my free time to write.  Add to it the fact that the logical next step of my Plan Alpha was one in which I really didn't have many concrete ideas on, more the beginnings of ideas.

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Does Epcot have to be for everyone?

Does Epcot have to be for everyone?

This is a question which I obviously know the answer to for many different reasons.  Of course a company like Disney wants one of it’s main theme parks, second in attendance next to Magic Kingdom, to be a park that everyone is interested in attending.  I know the answer to that question is a resounding YES.  For business reasons, for marketing reasons, for optics, for a million other reasons.  It’s stupid to even consider the alternative.

So, let’s take up way too much space in “The Cloud” discussing just that.  Why not?

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Was Wonders of Life Wonderful?

Was Wonders of Life Wonderful?

I’ve started, deleted, restarted, redeleted, put off, made up excuses (some legit, some not), and basically ignored writing this next blog post for weeks now.  To be fair, it’s been busy lately, at work and at home, with annual review stuff, digging out of a work-related hole, sick kids, and various other things that have made finding time to start writing difficult.

But, being honest with myself, that is not the only thing that has really stopped me from writing.  You see, I know what the next target on my Imagineering plan to remake Epcot (Plan Alpha) is, and I’ll admit something here, don’t tell anyone: I never formed a real emotional bond with Wonders of Life.

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The visual design

I’ve had this in mind to talk about all weekend, and just didn’t get a chance to sit down and write it.  This isn’t something in which I really plan on complaining about Disney’s lack of, well, anything really in regards to current Epcot.  It’s not really something that they probably have put a lot of thought into, it’s fairly static.  There is a little complaining of course, not everything is rosy, but overall not much.

Today I want to talk a little about the overall aesthetic of the park.  The design of the buildings, the walkways, the greenspaces, the water, just about everything.  I’m going to steal pictures from online to show some things, if you notice some watermarks on the pictures, just remember to visit their lovely sites as well.  I’ve not had time to dig deeply through my childhood pictures to look for photos of my own (which I will be doing at some point), so theft is my main option here.  There are likely going to be a lot of pictures in today’s post.

For a discussion on the overall design of the park, I’ll admit that I’m skipping over some of the genesis of what the park was when it started on Walt Disney’s watch.  The park that was once his brainchild was vastly different than what opened on Oct 1st 1982.  I think comparing this over time is just not very relevant, though I’m sure many people have, and maybe someday I will myself.

Walt's idea of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow

Walt's idea of the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow

I’ll also likely skip over some of the early versions of the park that were modified over time as the designers worked to take Walt’s vision and turn it into something that would work as a theme park.  I likely will cover some of this later as well when I get to talking about a major change I’d love to see made in World Showcase.  It is such an interesting thought that the designers originally had World Showcase as the entrance, with Future World sitting in the back of the park, working your way narratively from present to future.  The design changed multiple times over the years to eventually reverse it to what we know now with Future World being the main entrance.  The model below shows a middle-point, with Future World in front, but the American pavilion serving as the grand entryway to World Showcase.

An early model of Epcot Center

An early model of Epcot Center

It is though interesting to look at the design of the park that was created and look at where it stands today in comparison. 

The original park seemed so unique and original when you first walked up to it’s gates.  With the grand geodesic sphere of Spaceship Earth towering over the monorail station, you could see some of the design choices that would echo throughout the entire park.  You saw that this park was not going to be themed entertainment like existed previously in Magic Kingdom or Disneyland.  No castles, no jungles, not even the rocket ships of Tomorrowland.  The World Showcase might be traditionally themed, but Future World was different.  From the opening gates, you could see the recurring theme of the long, curved lines, the lighter color palate using silvers and light colored concrete.

A view of the entrance to Epcot Center, curved lines, silver and white all over.

A view of the entrance to Epcot Center, curved lines, silver and white all over.

The architecture seems to have one foot in the brutalism architecture movement, lots of large cement structures, one foot in modernist architecture, with it’s sweeping curves and vaguely futuristic viewpoint.  (Architects take note: I’m not an architect and likely just made a massive hash of different architectural movements, I’m just going off of my vague understanding and quick confirmation on Wiki).  There were not many straight lines in early Epcot, everything had interesting angles, curves, waves, and everything had an interesting design that looked different than what most of America would be used to seeing at that point in time.

Even the walking paths were not straight lines, dealing with arcs and waves.  The entrance left the ticket booths and brought you in curving paths towards Spaceship Earth.  The gateway to Future World.  The entrance was not cluttered, plants, grass, trees, water, and the crystal statue all brought us towards the future. 

An entryway clear of any sort of Legacy.

An entryway clear of any sort of Legacy.

Look at how simple and beautiful

Look at how simple and beautiful

One thing that comes to mind when I think about the design of the buildings within Epcot Center is the scene in Horizons when we first meet our hosts, sitting in their futuristic living room.  If you look out the window at the city scene behind them, you’ll see very similar design styles.  While their view is upon a “city” and Epcot Center was a set of pavilions, the same angles and curves are present.  Horizons was looking into the future, and Epcot Center’s design was as well.

Look at the city outside the windows

Look at the city outside the windows

Look at The Land building compared to the scene above.  Very similar architecture.

Look at The Land building compared to the scene above.  Very similar architecture.

Adding this one just because it's gorgeous.

Adding this one just because it's gorgeous.

I feel that the design work on Epcot Center was meant to reflect the future that the designers saw coming.  With large cement structures, environmental impacts of construction were being lowered, and the light-reflecting colors were looking for methods to reduce the environmental impact required to cool the large buildings.  Lots of light reflecting materials, photovoltaic cells on top of Universe of Energy, greenspaces in between buildings, all of these a vision into the designer’s view of the future. 

Over the years, there have been little tweaks to the overall design, but no truly massive changes.  The biggest (worst) was the introduction of the odd diamond shaped canopy thing in the middle of Innoventions.  Not large enough to truly provide shade, not small enough to block views, it just seemingly doesn’t fit in the location that it is in. 

Serving no purpose but to block a beautiful view.

Serving no purpose but to block a beautiful view.

There have been other modifications of course, pathway changes, planters being added/removed, but mostly the general feel of the park remains today when being looked at from the outside.  That is aside from the massive crowds of people who are streaming past Future World and only into World Showcase of course.

As I make my way forwards in this Manifesto, I’m going to be working with one design goal in mind.  I want to have an overall aesthetic change to Future World, but I don’t plan on making any massive structural changes to existing buildings.  Instead, I think that there are many ways that they can be worked with and updated to reflect a new vision of the future, while keeping most major structures intact.  Suggesting we reshape the buildings for no real reason at all would be just a giant waste of my non-existent budget. 

I do however think that we could make some fairly substantial changes to the visual impact and meaning of the entire Future World section of the park.  To bring it forward once again.  If Epcot Center was a vision of the future in the late 1970s, we can update the park to a futuristic view of the park from the late 2010s.  Next time, I set out the visual direction of the park update.

The Land (and the elephant)

Let’s start out the exploration of EPCOT Center with a pavilion that houses my current favorite attraction, once housed an attraction which I have an unexplainable love affair with, and one that currently contains an attraction which I have a big problem with.

The Land

The Land

I’ll often refer back to Walt Disney’s Epcot, as in my mind, being a promotional piece, really struck at the heart of what Disney was trying to do with EPCOT Center, it’s ideals, and it’s intent.  Speaking about talking to the designers of the pavilion, it says:

“They get excited, the members of the team that put together The Land pavilion, when they talk about it.  Their enthusiasm, bordering on the passionate, stems from a belief that it is the most vital, significant, entertaining, and challenging pavilion in all of Epcot Center.  The story of the land and its potential partnership with man, comes closest to the philosophy, purpose, and image of Epcot, according to the designers of the project.”

The Land is a pavilion with a bit of an identity crisis in it’s current incarnation.  Thinking back to The Land as it opened in the original park, had its focus on agriculture and living in harmony with the Earth.  The attraction lineup, headlined by Listen to the Land, complemented by Symbiosis, Kitchen Kabaret, and two dining establishments (A Good Turn and The Farmer’s Market), all complemented each other and all spoke to human’s use of the Earth to provide nourishment.  Humans living in harmony with our Earth.  From Symbiosis:

“Yes, we have come a long way but we still have a long way to go.  For although chemicals and pesticides are vital tools in fighting world hunger, will we employ adequate foresight to ensure that some do not again turn up in the food chain or environment?  How much longer will more than one-fourth of the world's food supply rot on the ground or be ruined by pests simply because of a lack of proper storage or delivery systems?  How much more of the world's precious arable land will be made useless by poor planning or uncontrolled  development?  And how much more of the world's rain will fall bearing pollutants that poison our lakes, rivers and streams?   For many of these problems, solutions already exist.  For others, they can be found.  It is within our power to address these issues.  It is within our power to use or to abuse.  To ruin or restore.  To marshal, or to waste.  What is needed, is the will.  For every drop of water, every human being, all creatures in the web of life, nothing in the universe exists alone.”

Let’s take Listen to the Land.  Aside from the phenomenal theme song, the ride is one of the two attractions in Future World left mostly in tact from it’s original version.  Though the live narrator has been lost (which in itself is a shame), the ride through the greenhouses is still one of those that shows EPCOT in its original intent.   It presented the material well during the dark ride portion, but once the door to the greenhouse opened, that is when the real magic happened.  

The growing techniques were so far ahead of their time they truly looked like science fiction.  Sure, some of them may have varying degrees of realistic commercial use, but the techniques themselves are not the important part.   For example, let’s play a game of Did You Know for a moment as we pause.

Did you know that on a planet 75-ish% covered in water, less than 1% of it is freshwater that is reachable for use by humans.  Of this, 70% is used for irrigation, 22% for industry, and 8% for domestic use)*.  Of the water used for irrigation, up to 60% never reaches the crop it is meant to irrigate (and is “wasted”)**.

Growing food in new and more environmentally sound ways is still just as (or more, looking at you California) important now than it was in the 80s.  If you notice as well, over the years the different techniques have changed/evolved within the greenhouses.   New crops, new techniques seem to be displayed each time I visit.   This shows a commitment to the ever-changing nature originally envisioned for Epcot Center.  And that just covers more water efficient farming techniques.  The number of different things that they do in the Land greenhouse is amazing.

Moving on, I may be one of the few people who have such deep affection for Kitchen Kabaret.  Let’s chalk this up to a mix of music, nostalgia, and a lifelong love of musical animatronic attractions (Tiki Room, Country Bears…).   I could likely go on and on about this attraction because of my memories for it, and you should see the T-shirt I made for a trip last year.  There's nothing I don't love about Kitchen Kabaret aside from the fact that it is gone.  I love it deeply.  I will spare you further gushing however and just link to this video. 

 

The big open centerpiece / fountain in The Land was really spectacular, a great deal better than today’s food-court chic.  It left the place less crowded with people, less noisy, more calming.  Just look at this:

Much more peaceful than today's overcrowded zoo

Much more peaceful than today's overcrowded zoo


So now to move on to the elephant in the room.

I don't like Soarin'.

No, it's not because it took the place of Kitchen Kabaret.  My reason is something more esoteric.  No, that's not right, petty.  That's the word I'm looking for.

It’s twofold.  I cannot get past the "Over California" piece, and even with the upcoming update to Soarin’ over The World, I still have thematic issues with the attraction.   

And here's the thing. I really enjoyed the ride when I rode it first in DCA. The difference is simply one of theme and intent.  I can't get past the idea that the film is one designed and intended for a park who's point was to display the wonders of California, in California. It's a "Come see the rest of California while you are here!" tourism film. The only thing is, in DCA, it makes thematic sense. That was what all of DCA was intended to be.

In Epcot, specifically in The Land, it makes almost no sense. Sure, by very nature of the attraction, there is "land" featured. Very pretty land. But, The Land was not about promoting tourism. The Land was about living with nature. The importance of agriculture, the importance of living in harmony with the Earth. Listen to the Land, Kitchen Kabaret/Food Rocks, Symbiosis, the Farmers Market. They all had themes specific to working with the Earth to provide food for our future and harmony with the Earth. Not look at how well we turned this beautiful landscape into a freaking golf course!

Now, will I like it more as Soarin' Over The World?

I will give it another try. Again, my issue is a little more than just "California". I don't feel that The Land pavilion was about showing off beautiful landscapes. But the California part will likely bother me less, that is for sure. It will make a little more sense to focus on the Earth as a whole and not just one state in one country.

This gets into a little bit of one way I’d fix Epcot if I could, which I will be tackling in much more detail in the future.  This will play a small part in a much larger plan.


I really feel that the film should use the Star Tours technology to display an always changing array of wonders of the world. The world is too large, too beautiful, too unknown to a vast majority of the population (of the US and the world!) to be limited to one 5 minute film.

Also, I don't think it belongs in The Land. I think it belongs in World Showcase. Updated, this is a film about the world, which, I believe, is represented in World Showcase at Epcot!

Currently, the queue that they had to build to connect The Land to the Soarin' show-building is long (see yellow below). Now that they are doing construction, adding a 3rd theater (which is a discussion for a different day), they should take this opportunity to place it in its rightful place. If we're going to have to stand in a line a country mile long, let's move it so it's at least theme appropriate.
Here are two potential paths:

 

Two potential paths

Two potential paths

Now I know why I bookmarked "Walt Disney World" on Google Maps.

Either of those would be just slightly longer of a queue than current. It could lead out to a spot inside World Showcase. I like the idea of having it at the entrance to WS honestly, as it's about the entire world, but I also wouldn't want to cut out any of Canada's beautiful gardens to get it, so I'd accept it on the other side. There would have to be work in that case though in how to get supply trucks and equipment into Canada, but again, I'm sure this could be done. Go over, go under, it ain't rocket surgery.

Once Soarin' is moved, well, I'll get to that later. There would be a worry on my part that The Land would waste away and die, so there should be something added to The Land to make sure that we keep the crowd drawn in.

The Epcot Manifesto mission statement.

Welcome to the Epcot Manifesto.

Manifesto?  That doesn't sound very "magical"!  Isn't Epcot in Disney World?  Isn't Disney World one of the happiest places on Earth?  How could one relate the word manifesto with a theme park?

The mission of this website is simple.  To explore the mission of EPCOT Center, the park as it existed in the 1980s and 1990s.  The park before it lost some capitalization and the word "Center" from it's name.  To look at the park that was, the park that is now, and to perhaps suggest some ways that the park could be brought back to it's former glory.  

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