Planning a Theme Park: The First Steps
feasibility study is the first step the development team takes in
master planning 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 investment.
study provides initial physical parameters, such as total land size
needed and building space required. It also recommends the attraction
mix and major components.
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
Business Advisors LLC (LBA) provides 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 this page.
the actual process the development team uses for master planning a
theme park differs from one project to another, the following
paragraphs outline a typical approach.
Concept Development in the
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 operational efforts.
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.
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 or fantasy.
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
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.
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.
functional 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 aspects.
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.
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 prevents
Illustrated Master Plan
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.
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.
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.
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.
Assistance with Later Design
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.
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.
More Details on the Feasibility
design tasks can be part of an expanded planning effort that begins
with the feasibility study, which gives the development team the
initial guidance needed for master planning a theme park. To learn more
about the specific tasks involved in that study, click
Design images are provided courtesy of Montchai