Theme Park Design: Setting the Stage

The feasibility study provides critical physical planning numbers for the design team, and is the first step in the development process. Leisure Business Advisors LLC (LBA) specializes in conducting this study, which is typically required by financing institutions and investors. The study provides market and financial analysis and projections. It also provides critical physical planning recommendations to assist the theme park designer during the design stage of development. It is critical that the designs are in line with market needs and expected cash flow. These physical planning guidelines need to be in place before construction and building can start. Designers, builders, and managers can all benefit from the guidance provided in the study.

As part of its expanded feasibility study, LBA can work closely with developers in preparing the initial image package that would assist designers in the design stage of development that follows the feasibility stage. We could provide a walk-through description and conceptual images of a new theme park seen through the eyes of a typical visitor. These would preliminarily suggest the general "look and feel" of the new park in financing and marketing presentations.

John Gerner, our managing director, has been an advisor for more than 20 years and has planned many theme parks in the United States, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe.

We pride ourselves on prompt service and are also sensitive to time constraints often involved in starting new development projects. If needed, assignments can be accelerated for an extra fee. 

LBA provides theme park master planning and design services 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.

Although the actual theme park design process differs from one project to another, the following paragraphs outline a typical approach.

                       

Concept 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 operational efforts.                              

                                                      

Design Charrette

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 or fantasy.

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.

The 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.

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 prevents bottlenecks. 

                                          

Illustrated Master Plan

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.

Aerial Perspective  

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.

 

Concept Art

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.

 

Assistance with Later Design Efforts

This schematic 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.

 

More Details on the Feasibility Study Process

These theme park design tasks can be part of an expanded planning effort that begins with the feasibility study. To learn more about the specific tasks involved in that study, click here.


         

     
   
   
   


Design images are provided courtesy of Montchai Design

           

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