Friday, August 3, 2012

The EPCOT Show Building Dichotomy

The latest post at Passport to Dreams Old and New explores the various techniques used at the Disney parks to hide (or divert your attention from) the boxy, warehouse-like show buildings that house most attractions. The article mostly focused on the Magic Kingdom (with a small foray into Animal Kingdom), so naturally I started thinking about EPCOT.

In the World Showcase Disney’s show building concealment techniques are in full effect. It’s necessary, because they’re trying to create the illusion that a piece of each the featured countries has been plopped down alongside an artificial lake in Florida.

Future World is a different story. Its buildings are basically permanent Worlds’ Fair pavilions. If you look at the original pavilions (and here I mean the ones that were either already built or finalized before Michael Eisner took over in 1984. So by this definition, The Living Seas is an original pavilion, but Wonders of Life is not) they don’t really consist of a façade tacked onto a plain boxy building. Pavilions like Horizons and World of Motion looked almost as futuristic from the back as they did from the front. There’s still a little bit of visual trickery going on-The Land is not really built into the side of a grassy hill that extends from the Seas to Imagination, that “hill” is there to hide some functional areas of behind and between those buildings-but it’s fairly minimal. A ride on the old Skyway in the Magic Kingdom would quickly expose Fantasyland as nothing more than some rather plain-looking buildings with attractive facades on them, but Future World always looked just as futuristic from the Monorail track as it did at ground level.

Mission:Space completely broke this paradigm. It’s a more conventional show building with a fancy façade on the front. But the one that a lot of EPCOT aficionados have a problem with is the Soarin’ building. Maybe you’ve seen it:


Doesn’t really jump out at you? How about now?


Most people don’t even notice it, but it’s been said once you see the Soarin’ show building you can’t forget it’s there. I’m not sure I agree with that. Maybe it’s because I don’t often find my gaze drawn to the Canada pavilion when I’m in the World Showcase, but most of the time the Soarin’ show building is pretty much invisible to me unless I actively look for it. That’s pretty impressive, considering that it’s really too big to hide. Covering it with rockwork or something like that would draw even more attention to it, but in the end simply painting it blue seems to make it blend into the air around it.

Interestingly, the plans for the abandoned Project Gemini (the early-2000s proposal to overhaul Future World) would have placed Soarin’ on the north side of The Land pavilion, next to The Seas. Of course, that would have involved a more drastic interior overhaul of The Land than we ended up getting. Would that have been preferable? Or would there complaints be about how Soarin’ ruined the skyline of Future World had it been placed on the north side of The Land instead of the south? (Answer: of course there would be complaints, this is the Internet.)

If you really want to get a good look at some of EPCOT’s invisible areas, take the Undiscovered Future World tour. You’ll be surprised at just how well Future World’s landscape hides the park’s backstage areas.


I thought I’d go into a little more detail about the landscape of Future World West and exactly what it conceals. I’m sure you’re familiar with the 1981 EPCOT Center concept painting that appears in the Richard Beard EPCOT Center book. Let’s zoom in on Future World West:


See all the greenery where the backstage areas should be? The reality, of course, is not as attractive:


Yep, most of what’s back there is rather paved and treeless. But let’s take a closer look at the “hill” that appears, from ground level, to come right up to front wall of The Land.


As you can see, the “hill” isn’t a hill at all, it’s a few truckloads of earth that was put there to hide the wall that conceals the utilitarian backstage area that’s really in front of the pavilion. See that overhang near the reddish-colored pavement? If you were to walk out the double doors near the Soarin’-area restrooms, that’s where you’d be. (NOTE: Unless you’re on an authorized backstage tour, do not actually do this.)

Another interesting illusion in Future World West concerns the true size of the Imagination pavilion. From ground level, it’s obvious that the pavilion is pretty big, but it’s easy to think that the back side of the pavilion is pretty close to the back side of the glass pyramids. In fact, the Imagination pavilion is much humongouser than most people think. (I don’t care what my spell check says, if “Nighttastic” is a word, then so is “humongouser ”) Take a look:


It’s easy to look at that picture and conclude that the original Omnimover ride was much longer than it actually was, and that the current attraction is therefore an even bigger travesty. And while I rarely pass up a chance to crack on the Dr. Nigel Channing snore-fest, accuracy demands that I point out that the entire interior volume of the Imagination pavilion was never completely devoted to attractions. There’s quite a sizable backstage area there, including a maintenance bay for the ride vehicles and a sterilizing facility for 3-D glasses. Also, notice the circular structure at the bottom of the picture; it’s the Canada CircleVision theater. Yes, the southern end of Future World and the northern end of the World Showcase are much closer together than most people think; the layout of the park basically makes you take the long way around to travel between them.

Well, what I intended to be a small update has turned into enough material for a whole other post! Thanks for reading and for your comments!


  1. Excellent work. I overlooked EPCOT mostly because I felt its accomplishments, especially in Future World, largely fell outside the realm of what I was talking about. Still, all of the World Showcase pavilions are designed in the traditional "show building" fashion, and the ones which changed designs relatively little between 1976 and 1982 - Mexico and Germany - have quite obvious show buildings.

    Please don't overlook the fact, however, that Journey Into Imagination has two very large show buildings only slightly disguised, or the warren of buildings behind those rolling hills at the front of The Land. The "facade" in this case is more of a decorated entry point to a series of warehouse-like structures, just how the Haunted Mansion's front implies a ride inside it which happens elsewhere. Maybe the greatest accomplishment of these is that they imply much more than they say - who, for example, bothers to think that those Land greenhouses are actually sitting in a roasting parking lot? Future World implies that the green, rolling hills and flower beds extend on forever.

  2. The Soarin' show building seems hardly worth quibbling over if you simply turn a few degrees to the left and observe the Swan & Dolphin intrusion (though not "show buildings").

  3. Foxxfur: Thank you so much for your comment! It inspired me to add the update at the end of the post, in fact. Of course, my analysis will never be as skillful or knowledgeable as yours, but it's nice to know I'm not making a complete fool of myself. Thanks again!

    Rob: Yes, the presence of the Swan & Dolphin, and how they ruin the forced-perspective Eiffel tower, is certainly a cause for consternation. But that is acknowledged to be a management failure as opposed to an Imagineering failure, since I don't think Imagineering had anything to do with it. Thank you very much for reading and taking the time to comment!

  4. I love this post. Gazing at the relative sizes of The Land vs. Imagination (and all other EPCOT pavilions) is something I have spent many hours of my spare time doing. ;)


Thanks for taking the time to comment!