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Updated edition of "Building a Dream" covers even more of Disney's world

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Updated edition of "Building a Dream" covers even more of Disney's world

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Wow. Has it really been 15+ years since Beth Dunlop wrote "Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture" ?

Obviously Disney's world has gotten a whole lot bigger since 1996. Which is why I think it's terrific that Disney Editions recently decided to revisit Dunlop's book. Doing an extreme makeover, if you will, of this hyper-detailed look at the architecture of the Disney Parks & Resorts.

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So how does this completely redesigned & updated version of "Building a Dream" compare to the 1996 original? This Welcome Book has the exact same strengths of the Harry N. Abrams edition, in that it marries strong imagery with some very insightful stories as to why various buildings around the Resorts turned out the way that they did.

Take - for example - WDW's Dolphin Resort. In explaining why he designed this 1,514-room hotel to look the way that it does, Michael Graves isn't exactly shy when it comes to admitting how he really feels about the Orlando area:

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"I had to do something that was an illusion in the muck, in the swamp that was there in Central Florida. So I designed a mock mountain, but it went on from there."

Though let's be honest here, folks. When Walt Disney flew over the part of the Sunshine State in November of 1963, Central Florida was mostly a swamp. But Walt saw the raw potential in this land. Which is why - over 18 months - he had Disney representatives purchase 27,400 acres of swampland, ranchland, and citrus groves for just about $200 an acre.

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And over the past 40+ years, the Imagineers have done an amazing job of clearing away of that sawgrass and cypress and then creating ... Well, places like the Future That Never Was.

Tomorrowland is home to plenty of visual puns. Everything seems to be bolted down or hinged in places with gigantic pieces of hardware. There's lots of stainless steel. It's all about yesterday's tomorrow ... architecture guided by a past vision of the future, appealing to the eye and to the mind.

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Bob Weis took a far different approach when it came to designing a look for Disney's Hollywood Studios. Rather than make this theme park a fantasy version of Hollywood, Weis decided to do everything he could to ground DHS in reality by selecting ...

... iconic Los Angeles landmarks, some still standing and some already demolished, to "reassemble" on site. Meyer & Holler's Chinese Theatre (1927), Carl Jules Weyl's Brown Derby (1927), Marcus Miller's Darkroom camera shop (1938), and Robert V. Derrah's Crossroads of the World (1936) all were given uses close to their original ones ... The entrance to the park was taken (with a clear resemblance) from the 1935 Pan Pacific Auditorium, which had been the first big commission of Walter Wurdeman, Charles F. Plummer, and Welton Becket. Decades later, Becket would become would become the designer of Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort.

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I will say this much about "Building a Dream" : Sometimes it's kind of depressing to come across a picture like this. Where you get to see Disney's Hollywood Studios as it was originally supposed to look. Before someone decided to drop that BAH (AKA the Big @$$ Hat) in front of the Chinese Theater and ruin the overall look & design what was arguably the most charming entrance corridor that the Imagineers have created since the original Main Street, U.S.A. for Disneyland Park.

Don't get me wrong, folks. It's not like I'm prejudiced when it comes to BAHs. In the proper setting (like, take - for example - Roy E. Disney's office at the Walt Disney Animation Studios building in Burbank)  ...

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... I think that they can be quite charming. Just not plopped down at the end of a carefully scaled, affectionately rendered version of Hollywood Boulevard.

Getting back to Beth Dunlop's "Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture" now ... Half the fun of paging through this coffee table book is to seeing the ideas that the Company opted not to go ahead with. Like Michael Graves' initial take on the Team Disney Building on the Disney Lot in Burbank. Which was originally supposed to just have a statue of Mickey Mouse in its pediment ...

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... until, that is, Michael Eisner complained that Graves' original design for this building made it look too much like a bank. Which is when the architect opted to swap out Mickey for the Seven Dwarfs.

Conversely, when Japanese architect Arata Isozaki to put statues of Disney characters on display in the central tower of Orlando's Team Disney Building ...

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... only to then have Eisner nix the character statues. Reportedly because Disney's then-CEO reportedly believed that - by putting the characters on display inside of the world's largest sundial - it undermined the Japanese garden feel of this space.

Which isn't to say that Michael didn't like to see the Disney characters pop up in the structures that he had built during his architecture patron phase. By that I mean: He loved all of the whimsical character-based touches that Robert A.M. Stern folded into his design for Walt Disney World's Casting Center.

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But what I liked most about this new, improved version of "Building a Dream" was how Beth Dunlop addressed the many changes that have happened in Disney's world since 1996. Be it the Company's $36 million restoration of NYC's New Amsterdam Theatre (which re-opened on Broadway back in April of 1997) ...

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... to (looking just a few months down the road here) the opening of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure Park ...

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... Dunlop gives you a renewed appreciation of the huge role that architecture plays in the success of Disney's Parks and Resorts.

So if you'd like to learn more about some of the more intriguing structures that you'll see in Anaheim, Burbank and Orlando (and let's not forget about Celebration, FL, Oahu, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Marne-la-Vallee), then you should definitely spring for a copy of the new, improved version of "Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture."

Your thoughts?

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  • is it worth the money if one already has the original edition?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Interesting question. In my case, I like having an updated version of "Building a Dream" for my library because I can then use it for reference when writing stories for this site. Whereas the casual Disney fan ...

    Again, as I said in my review, the key differences between the Harry N. Abrams edition of this book and the new Disney Editions version is that A) the folks at Welcome Books have completely redesigned this thing. It's now really more of a coffee talk book rather than an academic study of the architecture at the Disney Parks and Resorts and B) it covers the past 15 years of additions.

    This is kind of like the questions I'd get whenever Leonard Maltin would put out a new edition of "The Disney Films" and/or when Dave Smith would update "Disney A to Z." For me, getting the updated versions for these books for my work was essential. But for those with a more casual interest in the Walt Disney Company ... Not so much.

    Tell you what, Jones. Why don't you decide for yourself? The next time you're out shopping, swing into your local Barnes & Noble and pull a copy of "Building a Dream: The Art of Disney Architecture" off the shelf. Page through the thing. Then go home and pull out your copy of the 1996 version of Beth Dunlop's book. If you think that there's enough of a difference between these two editions of this Disney architecture book to justify buying the updated version ... Then go right ahead. But if not ... Well, then you've just saved yourself $60. Which -- if I'm remembering correctly -- is the suggested retail price.

    Oh -- before I forget (because there are JHM readers who actually obsess about these things and will complain if I fail to mention it) -- I didn't pay for my review copy of "Building a Dream." It was sent to me gratis by Disney Publishing back in late November / early December of last year.

    Any other questions?

  • Thanks a million for you answer, Jim!  Unfortunately, I cannot have a look at the new edition in person, since I live in Germany, and it´s more than unlikely that a bookstore here will have it in stock. I´m trying to save myself the money, but i have a distinct feeling that I´m fighting a loosing battle... :-)

    Thanks again,


  • Just want to add a note.  I saw the new edition in the Disneyana store at Disneyland.  It was different enough from the former edition that I didn't realize I already had the previous version in my library.  The price was a little off-putting, but I bought it later on Amazon for significant savings.

  • I would honestly think all serious Disney collectors would want the new edition as well as the old. Perspective on some things changes with hindsight, even if the actual 'history' doesn't, and it is fascinating to see that aspect at work, too.

  • I just bought the new edition of the book this weekend, and based on a side-by-side comparison with the old edition, I'd say it'd be worth it for most Disney fans to pick up the new book.

    The original edition of the book is a series of essays about Disney and architecture, with illustrations to help prove points that the author's trying to make;  the new edition is more of a book of photographs and architectural illustrations, with essays provding more detail about what you're looking at.  The original text has been substantially reorganized and edited, and quite a bit of new text and illustrations have been added to cover projects that have come to fruition since the original book was published - at the parks and resorts, on the Disney Cruise Line ships, and in places outside the parks, such as Celebration and Val D'Europe.  Disney Editions kept the general dimensions of the original edition, but turned the book on its side, allowing them to keep roughly the same page count and to resize and add illustrations, all without sacrificing too much of the original text in the process.

    Folks whose primary interest is in architecture are going to be a bit disappointed by this revised edition; the new edition covers much of the same ground that the original book did, with less detail and less of an emphasis on architectural criticism. If your passion is more architecture than Disney, and you don't have either edition of this book,  I'd probably look for a copy of the original edition on eBay before I'd buy this new edition. If your interest is more in Disney than in architecture, you should be happy with this new version of the book, even if you have the original.  As DocEagle has noted, it ain't cheap, but it's readily available from several sources, so anyone who's interested should be able to get a copy without shelling out the suggested retail price.

  • Just ordered the book, I'm so happy finally a new Disneyparks book has been released, I hope it's worth buying, as I own the old one too. Thanks for the article!!!

  • People! I just received the book and it is freaking fantastic!!!

    People who own the old one, do not hesitate, but order, you will not be let down by this book.

    Those pictures look simply amazing, ahhhh, I'm so excited!!!! :)

  • I wrote a review on Amazon about the original: that it lacked a technical discussion of architecture, and more importantly didn't give a counter-balance to the discussion of the buildings.  I don't like the books which are either strongly negative, but if Dunlop (or someone), could do a Vinyl Leaves version of the architecture, I think that book would be a must-have.  Part of the problem is that anyone on this site likely has a good knowledge of the background stories; they may not have formal architecture training (or academic training) in the consumption-culture aspect of Disney.  And that is what made Vinyl Leaves my favorite.  In the original, Dunlop used Moore and Jameson's essays really well.  But in the end the book remained more story-time.

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