How to Build a Theme Park: The
The feasibility study is the
first step a developer takes to build a theme park because
it provides important guidance for designers, construction
companies, and management. An industry expert usually
prepares this detailed study, which is required by
potential lenders and investors. It is critical that
designs are in line with market needs and justified
This planning study provides
initial physical parameters, such as total land size
needed and building space required. It also recommends the
attraction mix and major components.
The planning firm conducting
the feasibility study may also expand that effort and add
initial theme park design and master planning. These could
include images of the new leisure attraction seen through
the eyes of a typical visitor, which would help define the
project's "look and feel" in financing and promotional
presentations. This effort would also begin the detailed
planning process needed to move the project towards
Leisure Business Advisors LLC
(LBA) has provided this service in cooperation with
Montchai Design. Tom Montchai is an experienced theme park
designer and is a member of the American Institute of
Architects (AIA). Examples of his past work are shown on
Although the actual process
developers use to build a theme park differs from one
project to another, the following paragraphs outline a
typical approach for the initial conceptual design stage.
Development in the Feasibility Study
The development process
generally begins with a site visit and initial meeting to
discuss the client's vision for the new leisure attraction.
Conceptually, the design effort begins with a blank page.
The greatest opportunity occurs when unique aspects of the
project can be effectively integrated with the proven
experience of comparable attractions elsewhere and potential
market support for this particular location. The resulting
plan is generally the strongest tool in financing and
As the feasibility study nears
completion, the physical and financial framework is in place
for conceptual design. The transition often occurs in a
"design charrette" that brings together the client group
with designers and other creative team members. The study's
findings are discussed, and ideas presented by all involved.
Specific goals for this
brainstorming session differ, depending on the type of
leisure attraction being developed. For a new theme park or
amusement park, this effort can begin with selecting a
general overall theme and specific themes for individual
areas. The most popular themes typically involve adventure
From the start, it is important
to keep the potential guest experience in mind. Ultimate
success depends on the new leisure attraction meeting
visitor expectations and desires.
Land Use Plan
At the design charrette, the
master planning process also begins. It often starts with a
"bubble diagram" that applies the feasibility study's
physical recommendations to the client's site. This initial
land use plan becomes more refined and detailed as it adapts
to the particular needs of the concept and site.
The above example provided by
Tom Montchai, is from a past amusement park project with
five themed areas, each of which would have a unique
identity that is reinforced by its architecture and
landscaping. A "theme park" typically has five to seven
distinctively themed areas under a broad overall theme.
layout of this particular example basically follows the
"loop" approach that is common with many recent theme parks.
In this layout, the themed areas surround a central lake
that often serves as the location for evening
spectacles. Another common layout is the "hub and
spoke" approach that Disneyland first popularized. It has a
central visual icon (such as a castle) as its hub,
with themed areas fanning out from this centerpiece.
Other layouts are used, and none is clearly superior to
the others. Unique site characteristics influence the choice
of the best functional layout, as well as other design
After establishing the themed
areas, individual components are distributed within
each area. Major rides and shows are typically placed
at the edges in order to attract guests throughout the
park. This approach helps maximize overall holding
capacity and crowd flow. The main shops are generally placed
near the exit for convenience.
Based on typical guest behavior
and pedestrian planning standards, a visitor circulation
plan can also be prepared to ensure smooth movement
throughout the theme park. This enhances guest comfort and
Functional needs are combined
with visual theming in an illustrated master plan. An
example is shown below by Tom Montchai from his past design
work for a major new theme park in China. As shown,
structures are often color-coded by type in order to aid
optimum distribution and placement.
Although functional aspects are
critical for operational success, a new theme park also
needs to be visually appealing and understandable to
non-professional individuals involved with the project. An
effective way of showcasing a new theme park is with an
aerial perspective, often from a "bird's-eye" perspective.
The aerial perspective below is for the same theme park as
the illustrated master plan above, but this perspective
gives a better sense of what the theme park would look like
as it more clearly comes to life in the eyes of viewers.
As the overall design vision for
the project takes form, more detailed views of smaller parts
of the project (such as an individual themed area) can also
be prepared. Below is an example of a close-up rendering
that Tom Montchai prepared for the Town Square entertainment
complex in Las Vegas. This image shows the locally acclaimed
children's park area that opened in 2007.
Our visual perspective can shift
to ground level, now that we have a detailed overall
perspective. The conceptual sketch, or vignette, below is
one of the many concept art images prepared by Tom Montchai
for the Town Square children's park area in Las Vegas shown
in the close-up rendering above. These artist conception
images provide a view of the new leisure attraction through
the eyes of a typical visitor.
with Later Design Efforts
design effort lays the groundwork for the subsequent
design development and detailed design stages. The concept
art images of individual structures will later become the
starting point for scaled architectural drawings.
As an architect for Forrec Ltd,
Tom Montchai was part of the design team for Universal
Studios Florida and was the project architect for its
Fievel's Playland area. Below is one of his facade
sketches along with a photograph of the actual building on
that theme park's New York Street after construction.
on the Feasibility Study Process
These design tasks can be part
of an expanded planning effort that begins with the
feasibility study, which gives developers the initial
guidance needed to build a theme park. To learn more about
the specific tasks involved in that study, click
Design images are provided
courtesy of Montchai