There are many offices that provide workspace for cast members at Walt Disney World. you can find office space in every nook and cranny of the Walt Disney World Resort—from locations above the shops on Main Street, U.S.A. to a former shopping mall on U.S. Highway 192 West, from office towers at Celebration to trailers behind Disney's Animal Kingdom, from the Casting Center to the Distribution Center.
in my own career, I've had two spaces. one was above the Venetian edifice at Italy in Epcot, which I called "Playing the Palace"—a magical place filled with very talented individuals in multimedia design. the other one was known as Westwood. Completely off of Disney property, Westwood was only a block away from Sea World. although it was a standard set of office cubicles, I had a great affection for so many that worked there. the gathering place was known as "The Patio," because it was furnished with patio furniture. There was nothing unusual about the setting, but there was a great espirit de corps.
none of these locations, however, are quite like the Team Disney Orlando building across from Downtown Disney, which houses the corporate offices of Walt Disney World, and is currently celebrating its 20th year.
Team Disney Orlando, named one of the best designs of 1991 by Time Magazine. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
There are several Team Disney buildings throughout the Walt Disney Company, the first of which is the Team Disney Building in Burbank with its seven Dwarfs as pillars. Michael Eisner's request of architect Michael Graves (who also did the Swan and Dolphin resorts at Walt Disney World) was fairly simple: "I have only one requirement. I know I'm going to drive to work and park my car every day. I want you to make me smile, because I know I'm going to have an extraordinarily difficult day."
Japanese architect Arata Isozaki was called upon to design the Team Disney building in Orlando. Isozaki offered three concepts—a mid-rise complex in the shape of fans as well as a high-rise design. when Michael Eisner chose the low-rise concept, Isozaki agreed that it was also his favorite, and Isozaki then set to work on what that concept would look like.
in Beth Dunlop's book, Building a Dream: the Art of Disney's Architecture, Disney's head architectural leader, Wing Chao, said Isozaki "came back with this yin-yang theory of positive and negative space, with a central tower that was very powerful, sculptural, looking toward the sky."
if that was Isozaki's intent, he may have very well fulfilled that requirement—for Team Disney stands today as an experience in polarity. And while it was recently remodeled in many ways, it still seems to be a tug-of-war in terms of design and utilization.
it begins, ironically enough, with a planter in front of the building. Originally, this was a reflecting pond, but for safety or other practical reasons, has gone away. the reflection pool was removed because, according to Disney's Eyes & Ears, "during rainstorms it was difficult for some people to distinguish the wet walkways from the shallow reflecting pools." in its place are shadowed cut-outs of the seven Dwarfs, along with the words, "Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It's Off To Work we Go."
Metal outlines (not sculptures as in Team Disney Burbank) of the seven Dwarfs. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Looking up toward the building as you approach the entrance, you again sense the polarity—the building's colors are bright and beautiful, and yet structure itself, with its imposing look like a nuclear power plant tower, makes it cold and uninviting.
As colorful as the outside may be, the interior, with the exception of the sundial, is for the most part, very subdued. Again, these contrasts create more polarity.
Mouse Ears frame the entry to Team Disney. Beyond, one can see the entrance to the sundial portion of the building. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Once you pass through security, you see the centerpiece of the building: a large open atrium that is a 120-foot funnel that acts as the world's largest sundial. "The sundial is no ornamental nicety," said Thomas Fisher, writing in Progressive Architecture. "[It] reminds us, for example, that throughout human history, it has been common to think of time as cyclical and its measurement as relative to particular events, such as the rising and setting of the sun or the change of seasons."
A very cool bridge cuts through the cylinder. It's more likely you'll see someone cut through then to spend time pondering the quotes chosen by Michael Eisner for the base of the facility. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
in Disney speak, that means "Circle of Life". that makes sense, even if the building was designed before the Lion King premiered. still, there's nothing that invites you to participate in that "Circle of Life". in the many years I have been there, I have seldom seen anyone pause to reflect on the cosmos and our relationship to it, even just to stop to eat their lunch there. rather, it seems that the design conveys a subtle message, "Time to get back to work."
the bulk of the space other than the sundial is of course, office space. Again, I've never had my office there. But I have spent a great deal of time over the years, and have known many who worked there. I have spent time in what was the office of both Judson Green and Al Weiss. I've attended classes there. And for several years I worked out every day at the gym downstairs. There are positive aspects of Team Disney. And there are negative aspects as well. perhaps that's what Isozaki meant by positve and negative space.
recent changes and upgrades have softened this architectural icon, making it warmer and more inviting—it feels more like Disney than it used to. And in many corners you now see subtle symbols of what has made Disney successful. Additional Mickey motifs have been added to "soften the austere feel but to still respect the building and to enhance it" according to Mary Shaffer, who is an office space planner with Disney's Building & Property Management.
one area has an entire section dedicated to the Disney Ambassadors over the years. in this photo is Cynthia Pleasant (a friend and colleague from my Disney Institute days), who served during Epcot's first full year of operation. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
the problem, however, is the office space itself. both the north and south sides of the sundial are flanked by large, open atriums. Extending eastward and westward are seas of cubicles, with nothing special; they are simply cubicles. although there are some closed office spaces along the sides, the area is mostly just cubicles. the space is drab with little flavor, and lacks the sense of individualization that the Pixar spaces have become known for out in Emeryville. for all the work Isozaki put into the design of the building, it seems as if he really never considered the experience of working within the building itself. Based on modifications I had to charter with meeting space at the Disney Institute, I imagine that any alteration otherwise had to be approved by either the architect, or in the very least, Wing Chao himself. And with that process in place, I'm sure that most people have just settled on a few family photos and a calendar, which is what you see in most of the spaces.
recent upgrades to the building have introduced changes to make the building more inviting. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
who occupies that space? about 1,130 cast members. Executives are of course in the corner spaces. There are a lot of finance/accountant types. some are other notable property-wide administrative groups like Diversity. There are few occupants in terms of artists, entertainers, or Imagineers. Most of what is here seems to be left-brained types. Again, it's a polarized contrast to the very right-brain thinking of what the Walt Disney company stands for.
what perhaps stands out more than anything about this lack of attention to the office space is noted in Dunlop's book, published in 1996: Isozaki himself has never seen the finished building. Part of the reason why is that he was steeped in his involvement with the Olympic stadium for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. afterwards, Disney officials implored him to come see it, yet Isozaki demurred. "But you haven't seen it finished," Wing Chao said. "Yes, I have," replied Isozaki. "I've seen it. I saw it when I designed it. I saw it in my mind."
Imagine if Walt Disney had taken that approach to building Disneyland. Designing Disneyland, but never showing up for its dedication, or at any time afterwards. I would put a red flag on that approach to building spaces.
How would Walt have done it? well, it depends. he walked through all of the details of the Burbank studio he built with the success of Snow White and the seven Dwarfs. all of it was tailored to the needs of his artists. But he was reluctant to put much money into office space out at Disneyland. he wanted his management team in the park, not behind a desk.
now that's an office—Working from a small Victorian-style desk in an apartment above the fire station. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
And of course, he himself had an apartment above Main Street U.S.A. perhaps that's the biggest problem, and perhaps the greatest polarity, with Team Disney Orlando. some of the most key decisionmakers are stuck here when the real decisions for these parks would be better served in the Enchanted Tiki Room, than in a board room. Simply put, there is never a substitute for being out in the park and walking in the shoes of your customer. rather, they hold themselves up in a building designed by someone who never even walked in the shoes of his customer--the employee.
if there is one thing that does make sense about this building, it's in the "yin-yang" statement that Disney is first and foremost about "show business." the parks, the shopping, the dining and the resorts are the show. Therefore, Team Disney must be the business.
too bad you can't put them closer together at Walt Disney World.
<a href="http://www.mouseplanet.com/9775/The_Yin_and_Yang_of_Team_Disney_in_Orlandotag:news.google.com,2005:cluster=http://www.mouseplanet.com/9775/The_Yin_and_Yang_of_Team_Disney_in_OrlandoThu, 27 Oct 2011 07:11:57 GMT">The Yin and Yang of Team Disney in Orlando