Friday, December 01, 2006

Japan, Morocco, FWAN?!


When did it all begin? When did the creative control Imagineering had enjoyed for years begin to get wrested away by the whims of its corporate overlords?

Some would venture that it all started when Michael Eisner signed off on the addition of two giant resort hotels to be located behind World Showcase at the tail end of the 1980s. Mr. Eisner, a champion of ostentatious and flamboyant displays of power and wealth, found a kindred spirit in architect Michael Graves and lauded the grandiloquent statement his work consistently made. So impressed was Mr. Eisner, infact, that Mr. Graves became the master architect for the Disney Studios corporate headquarters in Burbank, a leaden vault of a building more kin to the Bank of London or an Egyptian tomb, the enormous sculpts of the seven dwarves holding up the roof now cast as foreboding all powerful ogres.


The work of Michael Graves is many things- bold, dynamic, utilitarian, decorative, innovative.

One thing it’s not, however, is very Disney.

It wasn’t merely the fact that The Dolphin and The Swan were antithetical to the architecture of reassurance the Disney Company pioneered in the 50’s and 60’s that troubled Imagineers however; certainly Michael Grave’s work had enough whimsy, grandeur and innovation to land a spot somewhere on Disney Property. What really concerned Imagineers was exactly where the Dolphin and Swan were to be located.

One needn't have been a rocket scientist to realize that once the miniatures of these Vegas style hotels (owned and operated by Tishman Hotel Corporation) were placed on the scale model of Epcot Center at WED’s Model Shop the sight lines behind World Showcase would be severely compromised.

It certainly wasn’t a secret that one of the reasons Epcot Center was built six miles away from The Magic Kingdom was so that these very sight lines, the silhouettes of the World Showcase pavilions playing against a clear sky, would be unadulterated.

Despite the grumbling of much of the Imagineering staff at the time, Eisner’s super-sized ego wasn’t going to budge so the 27 story Dolphin and 12 story Swan Hotels, their requisite gargantuan rooftop animal sculpts adding an additional 56 and 47 feet respectively, rose behind the more modest four stories of the French Pavilion.

From that point on the pristine outline of Disney's romantic recreation of the Eiffel Tower would forevermore be tarnished, an all the more heartbreaking development because senior creative management at WED knew well what was happening and were powerless to stop it.

It was the tail end of the 80’s, however, and Imagineers had reason to believe that this architectural anomaly was only a hiccup in the grand scheme of things. Certainly once it was clear how damaged the World Showcase skyline had become even the most out of touch executives at Disney Corporate would make sure it never happened again. And so Imagineers looked the other way.

Over the last 15 years, however, paying guests of Epcot’s World Showcase haven’t had that option.

58 comments:

Gary said...

I've only been to epcot 1 time (and coincidentally stayed at the Swan) but while I was in the World Showcase, I never once noticed the looming hotel in the distance. I guess that I was more focused on the nearest 'World' rather than looking at the horizon as a whole. The picture that you posted is worth a thousand words. Thanks for pointing it out!

Anonymous said...

Michael Graves may be some things, but innovative is not one of them. His work smacks of stripped down functionality with no thought of human scaled interaction. His work is just awful, and it stands to reason this is why Eisner likes his stuff.

And Graves, for his part, has proven his lack of worth as an architect by not taking the bigger picture into consideration.

Beyond that, the hotels are altogether really quite cheap throughout.

Josh said...

It is a bit disconcerting to look across the lagoon and see those enormous hotels dominating the skyline, and it's definitely a let down - especially after the painstaking way the Imagineers made sure that Tower of Terror, which is visible from EPCOT, fit in the sightline behind Morocco as part of Morocco. It's exquisitely done.

But just as much a let down is it to take the bus or drive that road splitting EPCOT and Disney-MGM Studios. With so much visible from the road, there is none of the mounting tension of the anticipation you feel when you're taking the monorail, the ferry boat, or even one of the buses to the Magic Kingdom.

I wish all the parks had that same sort of build-up to the big reveal of the park's major icon (of course, for Disney-MGM Studios, that's pretty much Tower of Terror, since the anticlimactic sorceror's hat doesn't make for much of a 'wienie").

Anonymous said...

How much do I agree. It would have been such an amazing skyline, to make you believe that you had actually been transported to Europe...

So much for that.

Epcot82 said...

The question is ... can anything actually be done about this? Either now or in the future? Or will this always, always be the case?

captain schnemo said...

The Swan and Dolphin look too sterile for Disney property and the atmosphere inside them feels more corporate than magical.

The scale of the fountains is certainly impressive (one might say "imposing"), but they lack charm and warmth.

I might be in the minority, but I've never been a fan of the Grand Floridian either (which I've heard referred to as a "barn"), particularly when I see what could have been.

Bruce said...

Those hedious Swan and Dolphin hotels seem to have no redeeming qualties. I cringe at the thout of seeing them from inside Epcot when I visit there in April.

kcnole said...

That picture you posted is an awful eyesore but I agree with the first poster. I've been to Epcot many times and I've never once even noticed the Swann springing up behind the World Showcase. I've always been too engrossed in what is around me to even take notice of it.

So while I agree that it is a sad thing to have to see, most guests will never even notice it. The few guests that do are a few too many however, but it certainly doesn't destroy the park. It doesn't help either though.

/bsdb said...

Peter Dominick fits Disney. Like Mickey's glove.

Michael Graves does not.

Swolphin is a blight. Sightlines from Epcot do suck. All that wonderful attention to detail by Imagineering, unraveled in a heartbeat by executive hubris.


Executives come and go.

But ugly is forever.

Merlin Jones said...

Disney executives should be sworn in to their terms with the traditional Doctor's oath:

"Above all, do no harm."

Cheshirekatz said...

Now, this is really shocking because I usually loathe anything from the Eisner era, but I kinda like the Swan. I always thought it looked cool the way it loomed on the horizon.

But, then, I also have gnomes and plastic pink flamingos on my front lawn so I guess I represent the trailer-trash school of architecture.

TotalD said...

What an f'in cool site. I know Merlin but ..... now would be a great time to restructure epcot but my plan would be too ambitious. To make it what Walt Disney truly imagined. A model city that integrated the perfect ecological balance. Is that too grand ? I think not . Skylines are important but when the real function of the world of tomorrow has been so peverted it seems maybe a compromise on a giant compromise. Cool stuff.

2ndrodeo said...

I just happened to finally get to this posting day, and just happened to view a Disney Motion video about the first kids to visit Disneyland. Toward the end of the clip, there was a flyover shot of the whole park, as it is today. Across the back of the whole park is this huge, ugly, yellow monstrosity. I never have liked the look of the building anyway, even from seeing it on the outside. I never have noticed what the sight liines are like from inside the park, but will definitely look the next time I visit. I know there was a need for added office space on site, but wondered about the size. I like the changing blue/green of the freeway side of the building, but still think it also looks much too utilitarian. Those colors could have been used in a more creative way, and the "ochre" yellow left wherever someone (probably accounting) found it. So much more could have been done with that building.

Anonymous said...

GOD AWFUL!!!

So tragic. OBLIVIOUS!

Anonymous said...

I've never been able to figure out the source of Michael Graves' world renown. But then, I'm not much for post-modernism to begin with. His brand of whimsy certainly doesn't jibe with Disney's.

2ndrodeo, I think the yellow monstrosity is the Team Disney Anaheim building, also designed by Graves. And you're right, it is pretty much just a huge office building. I understand it contains a huge sandpit for all the executives warehoused there to stick their heads in!

Anonymous said...

The yellow building is the Team Disney building but it was designed by Frank Gehry, not Michael Graves. Gehry isn't very Disney, either IMHO but I guess Eisner had to employ every big name architect while he was in charge. As far I know, part of the reason for the Toontown Hills backdrop was to hide the Team Disney building and parking structure.

StrangeVoices said...

Somehow I just never saw the impact of the Swan and Dolphin as being overly much a problem. They are far enough in the distance not to really bring attention to themselves, and when you are looking across the lagoon it's not like there is a cohesiveness with France sitting right next to Morroco and then Japan.

I am also not so hateful of the design of those hotels. Not the best design in the world, but there is some kind of fun in it. I think they got a little too timid with the color scheme, and I would like to see more soft stuff around it. I am also not that crazy about the interiors now, because they went too corporate standard than fit with the hotel itself.

All in all, though, I think they have a purpose in dealing with the convention crowds, and I think there are a lot worse problems to be worrying about.

Brendan said...

I was working on IllumiNations when those hotels were going up (and coincidentally, did fireworks for the opening of the Dolphin). We had always enjoyed the open horizon and considered the hotels a "blight" upon the background. In fact we had move some of our laser effects as the Dolphin got taller so we didn't end up lasing the guests in the hotel. To many of us it signaled the beginning of the gradual slide of the diznee image which has finally culminated in the ousting of one of the biggest mistakes the company ever made. I find it interesting now that as an ex-cast member, I have a bigger voice as a stockholder than I ever did as an employee

teevtee said...

it is easy to criticize and freak out about things like the Swan and Dolphn but one needs a true understanding of the FACTS before they can render any meaningful opinion. I am sorry to say but in this case the facts have been ignored.

Lets go back in time a little for some fun Disney history lessons. The contracts for the hotels that became the Swan and Dolphin were in place BEFORE Eisner was ever part of the Walt Disney Company. Disney in the early 80's, desperate for cash after EPCOT was hemoraging money made the deal to build non Disney owned or branded hotels on the site. This was locked in stone, it WAS going to happen and nobody could do anything to stop it.

The original plans called for two HUGE totally unthemed concrete towers, each bout 50 stories tall to be built here. I am talking about gray monoliths with big Sheraton signs on top. THAT was what was going to sit behind World Showcase. Eisner actually fought very hard to get something better than that built. Disney had to honor the contracts they entered into (again, pre-Einser) and the hotels had to fill certain requirements (ie: convention oriented, large capacity etc.). The Dolphin and Swan actually represent a HUGE and I mean MASSIVE improvement over what was to be. Rather than that area becoming another cluster of non Disney hotels as was planned the Swan and Dolphin allowed Disney to leverage the area into a great resort center it now is. it is actually one of Eisner's greatest victories and grandest contributions to Walt disney World. There is lots and lots and lots about Einser to complain about, simply put this is NOT one of them.

Yes, it is true, the Swan and Dolphin seem out of place, but there is whimsy there, there is thought there and they are not generic hotel towers that would be at home in downtown Detroit or Cleveland. The recently remodled rooms and public areas are actually quite nice. Regardless of all of this the important thing to remember is how much better they are than what was planned to go there.

As far as sight lines, lets be honest here... you simply do not see them AT ALL, from inside World Showcase. they are far to far away and all sight lines are blocked by the foreground structures. The only way you can get the picture shown is to go to the far end of the lagoon and shoot it with a telephoto lens (which compresses space visually to make things feel much closer than they actually are). The point here is that they are not looming over Epcot and are really only seen from a few spots.

I am not a fan of most of what Einser did at Disney and in a perfect world I would much prefer nicely themed Disney hotels back there. But before we attack a guy for doing something make sure we know what he really did... at the end of the day on this one we shoudl all be saying "Thanks Mike".

Anonymous said...

it is easy to criticize and freak out about things like the Swan and Dolphn but one needs a true understanding of the FACTS before they can render any meaningful opinion. I am sorry to say but in this case the facts have been ignored.

Lets go back in time a little for some fun Disney history lessons. The contracts for the hotels that became the Swan and Dolphin were in place BEFORE Eisner was ever part of the Walt Disney Company. Disney in the early 80's, desperate for cash after EPCOT was hemoraging money made the deal to build non Disney owned or branded hotels on the site. This was locked in stone, it WAS going to happen and nobody could do anything to stop it.

The original plans called for two HUGE totally unthemed concrete towers, each bout 50 stories tall to be built here. I am talking about gray monoliths with big Sheraton signs on top. THAT was what was going to sit behind World Showcase. Eisner actually fought very hard to get something better than that built. Disney had to honor the contracts they entered into (again, pre-Einser) and the hotels had to fill certain requirements (ie: convention oriented, large capacity etc.). The Dolphin and Swan actually represent a HUGE and I mean MASSIVE improvement over what was to be. Rather than that area becoming another cluster of non Disney hotels as was planned the Swan and Dolphin allowed Disney to leverage the area into a great resort center it now is. it is actually one of Eisner's greatest victories and grandest contributions to Walt disney World. There is lots and lots and lots about Einser to complain about, simply put this is NOT one of them.

Yes, it is true, the Swan and Dolphin seem out of place, but there is whimsy there, there is thought there and they are not generic hotel towers that would be at home in downtown Detroit or Cleveland. The recently remodled rooms and public areas are actually quite nice. Regardless of all of this the important thing to remember is how much better they are than what was planned to go there.

As far as sight lines, lets be honest here... you simply do not see them AT ALL, from inside World Showcase. they are far to far away and all sight lines are blocked by the foreground structures. The only way you can get the picture shown is to go to the far end of the lagoon and shoot it with a telephoto lens (which compresses space visually to make things feel much closer than they actually are). The point here is that they are not looming over Epcot and are really only seen from a few spots.

I am not a fan of most of what Einser did at Disney and in a perfect world I would much prefer nicely themed Disney hotels back there. But before we attack a guy for doing something make sure we know what he really did... at the end of the day on this one we shoudl all be saying "Thanks Mike".

Mr Banks said...

Interesting 'facts', teevee. Thank you for your input. I will be anxious for further contributions from other sources and will ammend the article if necessary.

Regardless, Eisner assumed power in 1984, a full six years before The Dolphin and Swan opened. I believe there was plenty of time to re-think the placement and scale of these two gigantic resort hotels.

And finally in regards to your assertion that it could have been so much worse without Eisner's intervention, I would suggest that there's little to celebrate in, say, the high powered Disney executive who decides that two giant Mickey arms surrounding Spaceship Earth is over-kill and that one will do just fine.

Phil said...

I was working right in the model shop at the time. It was funny to watch the staff trying to figure out if it was possible to disguise the hotels from Epcot. At first it was proposed to build a burm behind France, the usual technique for hiding distant structures or service buildings. However, they figured out that the burm would have to be so high as to be a mountain, and weigh so much that it would collapse the service tunnels beneath it.

Those hotels were the first big gaff that I recall looking back. They sybolized the beginning of the Eisner era. Although as noted below, they were contracted to be built pre-Eisner. But the Imagineers were not flawless before that either. Future World wasn't exactly cutting edge, even then.

epkat said...

Regarding the title of your blog entry, is "FWAN" intended to be a portmanteau of "France" and "Swan"?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Banks:

I agree with your sentimate exactly, I wish the Swan and Dolphin were not there (Though I do not hate the hotels themselves, I do not like the location). But you know, it is sort of like shooting the messenger. Einser inherited this problem from the previous regiem and fought very, very hard to make the project better than what it was planned to be. Here is a small quote on the subject from an interview with Eisner about the subject:

" Eisner rejected a plan to build two rather ordinary hotel towers (that in my conversation with him, he referred to as "refrigerator boxes") near Epcot.

After some legal wrangling with the Tishman Corporation, Eisner hired the award-winning Princeton architect Michael Graves to design the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin hotels. The hotels were necessary to accommodate the convention groups who were staying at off-property hotels that had greater convention space than the existing Disney resorts."

it is important to note a coupel of things from that quote. First Eisner REJECTED the "refridgerator boxes" which were in reality HUGE concrete monoliths without one single ounce of imagination or interest. Secondly you have to understand why these hotels were being built and why they had to be so big... to get the convention business Disney had none of at the time. And lastly note that the "lagal wrangling" was actually a long, drawn out court battle that took years to resolve and had Eisner digging his heals in and refusing to build the garbage that the Tishman group was planning.

I understand that Einser took power nearly 6 years before these hotles opened and you may think they could of been moved or changed somehow but you have to understand that they WERE changed. Disney was in a legal contract, locked in stone. Einser took power in 1984 and the legal "wrangling" to get the hotels changed took several years, then a couple years to actually build them, so there is where the time went.

The point here is that Eisner did many good things along with many bad things and the previous management left the Einser regime with many odd things to deal with.

The Mickey Mouse are over SSE or the ginat hat at the studios are indefensible but the Swan and Dolphin had all sorts of forces fighting behind the scenes. Einser reccogzined that what was gooing in would TRULY have ben a blight and it also would of prevented the Yacht Club, Beach Club and Boardwalk fromn ever being built, instead having more generic non Disney hotels going in as a second hotel plazza would have been built. The reason the Swan and the Dolphin have this sort of odd thing where they are sort of Disney hotels and yet not (not owned by Disney but on Disney transportation lines and guests have the benefits of Disney hotels guests such as early park entry) is because Einser offered these perks to close the deal. Tichman agreed to allow Disney to take charge of the look of the hotel (as long as it met the size requirements) and Disney offered to allow the hotel added perks.

This is of course a greatly simplified version of what happened but it is a case of Eisner doing something well in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

No argument on how these hotels ruin Epcot's sightlines. However, there is another building that is ruining a World Showcase sightline and this is one that Imagineers DID have the opportunity to either fight or correct.

I am speaking of course, about the Soarin' building. It simply ruins the carefully constructed mountain backdrop of the Canada pavilion.

You can't blame Eisner for this one.

Anonymous said...

I've always noticed the hotels from within World Showcase.

Somehow, I think thanking Eisner for making the hotels "less ugly" is very slight praise. Kind of like saying "thanks for just giving me the flu instead of cancer."

Saying that Swan and Dolphin are (to quote) "one of Eisner's greatest victories and grandest contributions to Walt disney World" doesn't really speak highly of him. At the end of the day, they're still ridiculous.

--Wolf

Anonymous said...

I cannot argue the placement of the hotels (of this size) is poor. Nor can I argue if they are attractive or not because that is purely subjective and the more out of the ordinary something is the fewer people are apt to like it.

But it is really just incorrect to somehow blame Eisner for these two hotels because as I have said, they would be MUCH worse if not for him.

Do you like the other hotels back there? The Robert A.M. Stern designed Yacht and Beach Clubs and the Boardwalk. Those are 100% because of Eisner and if not for him refusing the build the original "box" hotel designs and nixing plans to develop several other similar hotels for that location they never would have gone up.

Imagine 5 or 6 25-50 story tall concrete towers filling that space. Think of a LARGER version of the WDW Hotel Plaza... because THAT is what the pre-Eisner Disney management had plans to build.

So we can complain about the Dolphin and the Swan but the worst parts of it all fall well outside of anything Eisner had anything to do with.

I think the sole thing one could pin on Eisner in this case is the flamboyant and fanciful style of the hotels. He hired Graves and he championed the entire "Entertainment Architecture" movement. But what other option were there under the circumstances? A more reserved or traditional building could of gone there but so what? That is LESS fun, MORE mundane and still spoils a few sight lines.

The Peter Dominick designed Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge are well loved, and also Eisner projects (he was very much involved with both).

I like to slam Eisner as much as the next guy but we need to keep perspective. The architectural achievements Disney made under Eisner are unprecedented in the industry. There may be a building here or there which any individual does not personally enjoy but overall I think it is was in the true successes of his tenure.

Geoff said...

as much as I would hate to admit it, I agree with you Teevee that what could have been would have been much worse than what is, this does not take from the fact that when visible the Swan and the Dolphin are blights on the World Showcase Skyline no matter which way you look at it.

as for the Soarin building being a blight on the Canada pavilion, even as I have recently returned from EPCOT Center don't see what your talking about, I've taken many many pictures of World Showcase, and even while walking around the world showcase I find my eye drawn moreso to other countries such as France, Mexico, or England, etc. but I never have found my eye drawn to the Canada Pavilion, and when I think back to pictures I've seen of WorldShowcase, I don't remember a time of seeing The Land Pavilion or any pavilion other than Journey into Imagination(even then its just a slimmer of the Pavilion) so please any photgenic (or otherwise) evidence would be appreciated.

I hope to soon visit the West Coast DisneyLand for the first time, so I will be able to see the Execs building in the background, though from what I've heard from the History Channel's modern marvels special on Disney is that Walt felt that the sightlines were destroyed by the hotels that popped up around the land he had set aside, how ironic is it that Disney does this very thing that caused the creation of WDW at WDW? and then after thats done destroys the sightlines at DisneyLand further by putting up their own huge officebuilding..

Anonymous said...

Geoff;

I agree that I wish the two hotels were not at that location, but the poitn is that it is not Einser's fault.

Inside Disneyland you do NOT see any outside buildings, Disney's or otherwise, unless you are say at the top of Splash Mountain. Inside California Adventure you see EVERYTHING from MANY parts of the park, very odd.

The Soar'n pavilion can be seen inside parts of World Showcase much as the Dolphin and Swan can be seen. By that I mean you have to be at just the right spot, look in just the right direction, and be far enough away (liek across the lagoon) to not have any forground buildings block the view. In other words as much as we like to complain these are pretty small issues, though I understand and agree with the principle.

finishdish said...

I hereby re-imagineer.....drumroll, please...seats!

pariartspaul said...

I remember when the hotels were under construction, I was there at the time working on the WDW property art directing some production elements for the France park. A fellow Imagineer and I were really curious and then confused as saw the two hotels evolve. First was the placement issue. Not only were they something that was visible from EPCOT, but to top it off they were crowned with those huge oversize sculptures, as if they were designed specifically to call attention to themselves. One of Imagineering’s greatest longstanding rules about carefully working out sightlines had been broken on a grand scale – and on Disney property to boot, where (we supposed) the company had ultimate control. Wasn’t one idea of Disney buying this immense property specifically so they could control issues like this?

Second was the issue of theme. Before these hotels were built, we thought a Disney themed hotel as something themed to a particular place or time, like a Polynesian theme, or a Victorian theme. We had seen renderings of an Italian/Mediterranean themed hotel penciled in near the Polynesian for years on master planning drawings, so we were expecting maybe something along that line to be built. But when we found out what the theme of these was…. A swan? A dolphin?, we were confused! How could you theme a hotel after a swan? What was the point? Would the public buy it?

So when we went to see them finally just as they had opened, we walked around in awe looking at the huge boldly designed and colored spaces for the first time, really in wonder. Of course, we were wondering, “what were they thinking?”! We had never seen anything like it. I actually like some of the spaces they created, but it all seemed so foreign to the WDW we always new. This was something completely different. They felt like hotels that were designed to be next to a huge airport complex in a big city somewhere, or in Vegas, to temporarily process masses of commuters, not to house people coming to a resort. There was nothing charming about these hotels. I don’t know, it all felt just a little unsettling all the way around.

Tongaroa said...

A little more information...since this discussion has changed course from aesthetics to politics.

Ray Watson, the Chairman of the Board of the Walt Disney Company in 1983/84, was desperately in need of fast cash to ward off hostile takeover attempts of the Company by several raiders. He signed a contract with Tishman (the same contractor who built EPCOT Center and later portions of Animal Kingdom) to build two new huge hotels on Disney property near EPCOT Center. The design of these buildings was not spelled out in these contracts. Watson just needed the cash to defend the company. It was supposed by many within the company that WED would be involved in the design of the hotels when it came time, and the relationship between Tishman and WED would be the same as it was on EPCOT Center.

Shortly thereafter Watson stepped down as Chairman and Eisner and Wells came in. Due to the management shake-up at Disney, Tishman thought they had an opportunity to become not just the construction bosses on the hotels but the designers as well (a role they had played during the construction of numerous hotels and office buildings in New York). Tishman submitted their designs (the big box refrigerators mentioned above) and Eisner rejected them. Tishman had no contractual right to select the design of the buildings anyway. Eisner insisted Disney pick the design, but Tishman could sell the operation of the hotel to any company they chose.

Wing Choa from WED/Imagineering submitted a design for the hotels what would fulfill the contractual needs but blend into the surroundings in a more “Disney” way. Think Tower of Terror behind Morocco. Eisner refused to allow Wing or anyone from Imagineering to be involved and awarded the design to Michael Graves.

The look of the Swan and Dolphin is 100% Eisner’s fault. He had another option, but he was looking to make a architectural statement that was more about being hip and edgy than being Disney.

Tongaroa said...

Also, the exact location of the Swan and Dolphin was chosen by Eisner. This was a concession Eisner made to Tishman. From Eisner’s book ‘Work in Progress’ page 218.

“Within a few months, we came up with a solution: offering Tishman a better location for his hotels, in return for permitting us control over design, and the obligation to live by the same service standards we set throughout the rest of the park.”

To suggest that the contract signed between Ray Watson and Tishman was “set in stone” betrays a tremendous lack of experience in corporate legal affairs. Nothing is set in stone. There was a long negotiation between Eisner and Tishman that lead to the Swan and the Dolphin and almost nothing of the Watson agreement remained when it was done.

Anyone who presents this as a choice between Tishman’s big box hotels and Grave’s Swan and Dolphin is oversimplifying the matter to a rediculous extreme (as Eisner did in the interview mentioned above, with the intention of making himself look good). There were infinite other possible outcomes.

Yes, Eisner was handed an undesirable quickly-drafted deal which had many loopholes (most notably the unanswered question of who would control design), and he negotiated a settlement to his satisfaction. But he negotiated this deal with the objective of building a postmodern architectural statement instead of negotiating a deal with the intention of building an artistically beautiful compliment to Walt Disney World.

Anonymous said...

Tongaroa:

Obviously I was greatly simplifying the legal wrangling of what went on between Tishman and Disney, and obviously many things changed along the way. However this thread and the original article are greatly simplified to the point where people like to simply say "Eisner bad" and THAT is what is truly ridiculous.

I could bore you with pages of facts and details but none of that is relevant here. What is relevant is the fact that all of this was set into motion far before Eisner took control of Disney and frankly the end solution is about as good as Disney and it's fans could have hoped for.

You are 100% correct that Eisner wanted to make an architectural statement while at Disney. You are correct that he did not want most of these projects handled in house and you are correct that most Disney fans have issues with things being different than they have been in the past. However Tishman had much more leverage then you make it out to be. This simply was not a case of Disney inviting Tishman to "ruin" sightlines because they were ignorant or uncaring; it is making the best of a bad situation which previous management placed them in.

Your facts are correct but the general implication that this was a result of Einser's blind ignorance is not.

We can never know exactly what Eisner would or would not have done had those deals not already been struck. The bottom line however is that I agree with the general tone of this thread. That is that Eisner was more concerned with making grand statements to the world than nurturing long-standing practices at Disney. The reason he wanted these things designed without the aid of WDI was in hopes of pushing boundaries and not becoming stagnant and resting on laurels, something Disney certainly was doing by 1984. We can argue how successful it was or was not (I think there are great examples of it working very well and other spectacular failures) but none of that pertains to this topic.

Some love the Swan and Dolphin, some hate them. Some want Disney to do things the same over and over again while others want them to experiment and change. These ear all simply opinions. The intent of my messages was not to open up a specific debate over the individual minutia of legal deals but rather to point out that in a much broader sense things like this are never as simplistic as "Eisner bad".

I am not comfortable being thrust into a role of defending Einser because I am one of his harshest critics, but I also feel that if we are all going to discuss things like this that a little understanding of that back story that led to the end results in quite important. It changes things in a very meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

I think this statement sums it up pretty well:

the end solution is about as good as Disney and it's fans could have hoped for.

"About as good." The thing, and the point I was trying to make--unsuccessfully--in my previous post, is that we've all come to hold Disney to a standard higher than "about as good."

That standard exists because they themselves set the bar so high, and when they fail it's a rather spectacular failure.

Switching topics ever so slightly, I was told during the construction of the Soarin' show building that the visibility of the building was one of the problems, and the solution (at least for now) was to try to approximate an "average" Florida daytime blue sky color for the outside paint job, in order to make it less obtrusive.

It works, to some extent, as long as they keep the paint job fresh.

Wolf

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify;

When I said "about as good" I was contrasting it to "what could have been".

I 100% agree that NO hotel or other outside building ideally should be visible from within the parks.

I actually like the Swan and Dolphin and much of what Einser's push into less themed and more modern architecture ledt to, though I wish it was located differently. I also think that the Disney HOTELS should be themed while other buildings ( administrative, shopping etc.) can get away with the more modern approach.

Tongaroa said...

Teevtee:

The article criticized the location, design and architect of the Swan and Dolphin, all of which were selected by Eisner (by his own admission in his autobiography). It seems that Mr. Bank’s criticisms of Eisner are valid.

The fact that a contract existed with the construction company before Eisner’s tenure is not as significant as you are making it out to be. These things happen in large corporations. You deal with it. You renegotiate. Eisner did. But he renegotiated with a goal in mind that a huge number of people who care about Disney (inside and outside the company) disagree with, and the results are as clear as a giant PoMo Swan hovering over the Eiffel Tower.

I have an excellent handle on the FACTS you are so concerned with us understanding, and I just don’t think your argument has any relevance to the article we’re discussing, which is all about aesthetic choices. Also, please don’t make the mistake of assuming this blog is run by a bunch of fans with a myopic view of Disney.

Anonymous said...

I don't want this thread to become the "teevtee opinion forum" so I will make this my last post on the subject and in fact I apologize for being soe wordy as is. I normally would allow my past posts to stand on thier own merit but Tongaroa said something I must address.

At no time have I ever suggested that those who run or read this blog are anything other than well informed, well intentioned and passionate fans and profrssionals. I certainly have not suggested that they are "myoptic' in any way.

I am not interested in arguing for arguments sake, especially when I agree with the majority of what is being said.

My point stands that the behind the scenes maneuvering is MUCH more complex than people tend to think. People enjoy complaining (myself included frankly) often without fully understanding whay what they are complaining about happened in the first place.

To suggest that the Swan and Dolphin are not major improvements over big concrete boxes would be just silly. To suggest that a solution could of been struck that would of allowed no hotel there at all would be ignoring the multi year leagal negotiations which led to the comprimise they settled on. To suggest that Disney should have used some other design for the hotel is simply a matter of opinion.

I never intended to open up a debate of this nature, I simply wanted to point out some facts which were not included in the original article (which I think has been edited at this point though I am not sure) which have a very large impact on the way one should view the situation.

If armed with the facts you still think that the hotels are horendous then great. In fact WHY they got built there and in that style really has no impact at all on whether one likes them or not, or if they have sight line issues or not. However it DOES have an impact on who is to "blame" or if blame is to be given at all.

Anonymous said...

When I said "about as good" I was contrasting it to "what could have been".

Neither is good enough. Both are "settling." They've set the bar high and fallen short. Big ugly boxes, or big ugly Swan and Dolphin--it's irrelevant. It's still failure. One is just not so big a failure as another, aesthetically.

The Contemporary is an ugly building, if you want to go into the whole architecture thing. It's also my absolute favorite resort on-property. Might be the comfort of canonical properties as opposed to those that came later, I don't know.

Pop Century is a complete fiasco too...but that's a story for another time.

Wolf

Mr Banks said...

I'm glad TeeVee has finally come around. Took a while, but it was worth it.

captain schnemo said...

I'm glad teevtee was nice enough to add his perspective to this thread. It is easy to fall into the "Eisner bad!" trap and I think it devalues our (already pretty weightless) opinions when we do so.

After reading the discussion, however, it seems clear that it's all still ultimately Eisner's fault. If you don't like the Swan and the Dolphin, then there's really only one place to lay the blame.

The sight-line issue is one of the main reasons WDW exists. Ignoring it is not just a matter of style, it's pissing all over a fundamental Disney principle. Like cheap carny rides in a Disney theme park, there's no amount of rationalization that could ever make them fit.

It is, however, interesting to know that things could have been worse. Eisner was right there to push everything into mediocrity, which is par for the course. "Mediocre" would be an insult to Walt, but it was business as usual for Eisner. I don't believe that if the company were run competently, so many things along those lines would have occurred. If someone told Walt something was impossible, he'd just pour more energy into it. He was not typically happy to settle for "better than awful".

At any rate, it's nice to have a BS detector participating, and I hope in the future we'll continue to welcome teevtee's insight.

Anonymous said...

The Swan and Dolphin were built and built where they are because in the late 70's/early 80's Tischman had somesort of lead-tight deal with Disney. I don't know the full details of it but I believe that it involved a hotel near the Hilton at WDW - also owned by Tischman. After Eisner and his cronies came in, they reniged on the deal. Tischman's lawyers called the Disney lawyers who then called Eisner. The nature of the deal was such that if Tischman had sued they would have won and won big. The Swan and Dolphin were the settlement - with no sightline restrictions. I personally know one of the S/D Chauffer's who has confirmed that Mr. Tischman himself has stated that the gaudiness of the hotels and the Dolphin spire was done out of shear spite.

The bit about the hotel property has also been confirmed by a cast member who stated that she clearly remembers a hotel being proposed near the Hilton and then nixed and then everyone being shocked about the Swan/Dolphin. The shock was over the fact that World Showcase Lagoon was design with the intent of possible expanding it out to two other lagoons given the number of countries in the World. Yes, it would have formed one huge-ass Mickey. This theory is supported by the location of two bridges that exist. One of the canal that leads to the drydock and the other to what is now Cresent Lake.

David H

Anonymous said...

>>> I personally know one of the S/D Chauffer's who has confirmed that Mr. Tischman himself has stated that the gaudiness of the hotels and the Dolphin spire was done out of shear spite.<<<

Well I am sorry to tell you but despite such rock solid evidence as a chauffer for Tishman the look of the Swan and Dolphin are most certainly not formed from spite.

First of all, like them or hate them the LOOK of them was 100% dictated by Disney. The SIZE of them was not dictated by Disney as was part of the original deal. In order to achieve the capacity and the intent of the hotel (conventions) building up was pretty much the only recourse, so the HIEGHT could possibly be traced to the original pre-Einser deal. HOWEVER it was Einser, not Tishman who dictatded the look (hired Graves etc.).

Now people have complained a lot about the look of the hotel but the fact is that they have won numerous awards and are actually very good examples of Post Modern architecture. One can argue if it belongs on property and so forth but they are anything but quickly thrown together buildings done so out of spite. Firthmore to suggest that any company would gamble tens of millions of dallars out of some sort of spitr driven vendeta is a bit niave.

Sprry to have posted on the thread again, I know I said I would not but lets try to keep at least some sense of reality here.

2ndrodeo said...

Lots more good info and history. Interesting.
(Yes, the puke yellow building is Team Disney, and no, you can't really see it from inside the park except for up high... I was just making the point of the look of it. Driving around the streets outside, it is still very ugly, and very visible.)
I am still surprised about sight lines with anything in Florida, being that the point of going there was to learn from the mistake of not planning ahead with enough space in Anaheim ("Give me land, lots of land..." sorry. Broke into song...) It seems that there should have been plenty of room to build any necessary convention space, and whatever else was needed, without sight line problems, no matter what the design. Also, more creative, themed design never had a better chance than at that time.
(If the rumorings are true about the Anaheim hotels coming down, to make new ones, how creative are those going to be?)

2ndrodeo said...

I saw this quote today at Amazon, from an interview with Neal Gabler about his book "Triumph of the American Imagination" -

"It is astonishing that Walt Disney was always--and I do mean always--in dire financial straits until the opening of Disneyland. The primary reason wasn't that his cartoons weren't making money, because they were--at least until the war in Europe when the loss of that market meant disaster for the features. But even as they were making money, the studio was losing money because Walt was constitutionally incapable of cutting corners, enforcing economies, laying off staff. The only thing about which Walt Disney cared was quality. He thought that quality was the way to maintain his preeminence, though quality also had the psychological advantage of letting him perfect his world. The problem was that quality was expensive."

It comes down to quality (used to).

Slowjack said...

Just to add my understanding to this story...according to "Building a Dream," which discusses the history of the Swan/Dolphin in detail, it IS essentially Eisner's "fault" that the hotels are so easily seen from Epcot.

It is true that the original Tishman deal was worked out before Eisner arrived, and that Eisner got Tishman to agree to let Disney design the hotels in return for the new location.

However, the design of the hotel came down to a competition between Graves, Robert Venturi, and Alan Lapidus, who had designed the hotels Tishman originally wanted. To quote from the book:

"One rule of the competition was that no build could be higher than eight stories, so that it couldn't be seen from other points in Epcot or at the panned Disney-MGM Studios."

Graves, with some encouragement from Wing Chao, broke that rule with his design and Eisner, who was apparently really getting into architecture and wanted to make some kind of statement, eventually picks Grave's design.

So the notion that Eisner saved us from even taller and more ordinary hotels in the same location is not true.

Anonymous said...

I checked with a buddy of mine thats still out there after 25 some odd years. There was a lead-tight deal for a hotel in the LBV area which Eisner and his cronies nixed. Due to the nature of the contract, Tischman either won the subsequent lawsuit or had such a strong case they would have won. The Swan/Dolphin without any sightline restrictions was the settlement.

David H

Anonymous said...

The information in that book is either incorrect or somehow so simplified as to make it seem like that was the case. If you do some real research you will find what the original plans were and what was almost built, and trust me when I tell you they are worse than what is now there.

I certainly agree with others who have stated there is no reason any of this should of happened to begin with. Lets forget the design of the hotels which is purely subjective opinion, there certainly is room at WDW for them to be placed eslewhere, outside of sight lines. Now I think it is important to realize for those who have not been there that the hotels are only visible from a few spots and from far away. You need to get back across the lagoon in order to see them in the distance... but they ARE there for sure and THAT is a problem.

But like I said, do some research into the legal battle and read what the alternatives were... don't trust me, or s paragraph from a book.

And there I go, breaking my damn promise not to post again.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the comment by 2ndrodeo on Neal Gabler's book about Walt Disney. While I agree with the spirit of the quote that 2ndrodeo submitted, I disagree that Walt was obessed with quality all the time.

The feeling I got from reading the book was that Walt was an extreme stickler for quality as long as it was a project he cared about, which was usually when he was blazing a path, (read: Steamboat Willie, Flowers & Trees, Snow White, Fantasia, Seal Island, Mary Poppins, Disneyland, EPCOT--the orignal one-- etc.)

But when it was something that he wasn't really "interested in" he often let quality slide or let other people oversee them, (read: Robin Hood, Mickey cartoons in the later years.)

Disney's staff often said whenever Walt found his next "new thing" he tended to leave the old behind in the dust. The challenge for Disney in the 21st century is to maintain the sense that every single project they are doing is the FIRST EVER and as such, must be a SMASH HIT.

Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time poster...

Had the Swan and Dolphin been built over in the Hotel Plaza/Downtown Disney area...my guess is that we'd all be raving about how wonderful they are...and we'd all be wishing Disney could find a way to level the ugly Best Western, Doubletree, Grosvenor, Hilton, etc., and replace them with something more Swan and Dolphin-like.

I agree 100% that the Swan and Dolphin are an eyesore when you're looking directly across the World Showcase lagoon. However, you can also see part of BoardWalk's roof, and that also kills the Eiffel Tower illusion, if Morocco or the IllumiNations light poles weren't already doing it for you.

Speaking of BoardWalk, since the Swan and Dolphin were there first, and they were obviously there to stay, one could argue that BoardWalk was a rather poor addition because it completely destroyed the symmetry that the Swan and Dolphin shared. The Yacht Club helps to block the Dolphin's giant convention wing, actually improving the aesthetics, but the BoardWalk completely blocks much of the Swan from view, making it much harder to tell that the Swan and Dolphin are a carefully planned matched set. When combined, the Yacht Club, Beach Club, and BoardWalk, all being low-rise structures with a decidedly different architecture, all make the Swan and Dolphin stick out far more than had they been left to stand alone.

The Swan and Dolphin and the small portion of BoardWalk's roof are not the only problem spots on Epcot's horizon. The Tower of Terror sticks out like a sore thumb. I'm not sure how it's supposed to exquisitely blend in with Morocco. Likewise, I've yet to see a day where the blue paint on the enormous Soarin' building so closely matches the Central Florida sky that the whole building just magically vanishes into thin air. Unfortunately, Soarin' is every bit the eyesore the Swan and Dolphin are.

The cell tower "trees" on Disney property do nothing to fool me. If anything, a skinny pipe cleaner tree that's managed to grow 100 feet tall in a forest with a 40-50 foot ceiling is going to draw more of my attention than had they left the tower as bare metal. So who do we blame for these "trees?" ;-)

Yup, it's too bad that the Swan, Dolphin, Tower of Terror, and Soarin' have all had a negative impact on Epcot's horizon. It's also too bad that there are massive ugly power towers running along side some of Isleworth's multi-zillion dollar homes, but it didn't stop Tiger Woods and others from buying homes there. I guess he/they were somehow able to "get over it."

And "get over it" is exactly what some of us need to do as far as the Swan and Dolphin are concerned. Has anyone ever returned home from Walt Disney World and told all of their friends and relatives that their trip was ruined because--gasp--they were able to see part of a hotel off in the distance when standing in a certain spot?!

Heck, I'm too busy having fun at each stop along the way to really be bothered by this stuff. When I'm actually in France, I can't tell that the Eiffel Tower is bolted to the roof. When I'm in Canada, the "mountain" looks pretty darn good to me. And when I'm in Mexico, if I should happen to look across the lagoon, and suddenly find myself bothered by the giant Swan and Dolphin, I'll remember to order another frozen margarita! ;-)

If "show" is paramount, if what a guest sees is supposed to be carefully controlled, we might want to ask ourselves why Disney saw fit to run the Fantasyland/Tomorrowland Skyway cable-cars for 28 years. Looking down on ugly rooftops and unsightly backstage areas is more of a shocker, to me, than discovering Epcot's Eiffel Tower isn't actually real. But, let me ask, how many 10-year-olds do you think had an awful time on the Skyway because they took the time to notice It's a Small World's roof?

Veering off course...

I've never really understood all of the hatred for the Swan and Dolphin. Totally unrelated to the "look" of the hotels, as someone already mentioned, some people love 'em, and some people hate 'em, I seriously have to chuckle every time I hear a Disney fanatic telling someone that the Swan and Dolphin, not being operated by Disney, just don't have that "magical Disney service."

I don't know. Maybe I just don't interact with the hotel staff enough. Maybe I need to find more things wrong with my room, or the food, or the temperature of the water in the pool. But, over the past 30+ years, I've managed to stay at every single hotel on property, including the Swan and Dolphin, and I pretty much get the same friendly welcome at check-in every where I go.

Believe it or not, I can dial up Housekeeping in a road-side Hampton Inn, ask for an extra blanket, and, miracle of miracles, someone shows up at my door 5-10 minutes later with a smile and a blanket! Why, it must be some kind of voodoo magic! To say nothing of the free local phone calls and breakfast in the morning! ;-)

Digital Jedi said...

Aren't I usually the long winded one? LOL

Like 'em or not, the hotels are in a bad spot, aesthetically. Yes, you can see them quite clearly from within the park. A few of you didn't notice them, but that doesn't mean it isn't noticeable. Their quite obvious, and quite obviously, like much of what's gone on in Epcot lately, misplaced.

I'll admit, I don't get how it makes a difference if Eisner was responsible for the location of the Swan and the Dolphin or not. Looks to me like he was responsible for the overall look of the project. And that's really what the regular, non-corporate savvy folk like us have a problem with. The look and the location don't jibe.

I'm sure someone will point out to me the myriad legal and contract minutia of why I'm off base here, but I'm going to make the statements anyway.

For one thing, I don't buy the notion that Eisner's hands were shackled behind his back while buildings were erected outside his control. He was the CEO. And I while I understand that this doesn't mean he gets to do anything he wants, it does say one thing to me. Anyone else in his position, anyone, who had a reputation for concern and care on what went into the Disney Parks, then I could give a LOT more credit to him for his so-called fight to do damage control.

Did Eisner do everything in his power to move the project somewhere else? Did Eisner have the sight lines and symmetry of the Disney Parks in mind when "fighting" to get the hotels something more aesthetic? Did Eisner use his position in this specific scenario to make Disney a better place, as opposed to making it better for his wallet?

I don't know. Probably none of us will know for certain. But based on what we DO know about Eisner and his business practices, based on our past experiences with him and his other decisions for the "betterment" of the parks we know and love, what do you think the most likely answer is?

Eisner bad? Well, why should this time be any different?

Anonymous said...

I've visited EPCOT time and time again, and I can say for certain that in that picture was the first time I ever noticed the Swan from inside of EPCOT.

And for the record, I've always liked the Swan and Dolphin. I think they're neat, and sufficiently interesting anough to not be something you coculd find just anywhere.

But that's just the two cents of a random observer and lover of Disney.

joey Murray said...

I have never been a fan of the Dolphin or swan buildings. The audacity of their designs always annoyed me. I’m glad to see I’m not alone.

Lore said...

Was that photo from a Kodak photo spot or an EPCOT postcard? I haven't been to EPCOT since that thing got put in. Photos of that and the giant wand just haven't captured my imagination. Tis sad though. That park has such promise and a strong design.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm one of the few here who like the Swan and Dolphin resorts. I didn't really like them from the get-go, but I think they are beautiful now, and I really enjoy photographing them. I actually prefer them to the Disney hotels on the Boardwalk.

Denise

Wayne M said...

That design of hotel might work in Las Vegas, but not behind Epcot's World Showcase it really stands out of course people are going to notice that, it ruins the whole atmosphere of the particular part of the park.

Wayne M said...

That design of hotel might work in Las Vegas, but not behind Epcot's World Showcase it really stands out of course people are going to notice that, it ruins the whole atmosphere of the particular part of the park.

Morocco PROperty said...

I have been in Disneyland in the USA and also in France.One of the main attraction is how they are important regional styles from different parts of the world as Morocco or India.