After 14 years in the field of architecture, punch listing projects and cataloging and visiting world-class masterpieces of design, we as architects are especially unforgiving to the places of our past.
Opportunities to test the architecture of your memory are always interesting. Particularly when viewed as an adult looking back to what a place impressed upon you when you were a kid, it's amazing how much doesn't hold up to the myth we build around significant places from our youth. The elementary school that was bright and colorful, or looming and foreboding, is now just a dingy unimpressive, or even tiny, structure that you wouldn't look twice at had you not had this intense memory of the place to draw you back.
Revisiting Walt Disney World is the ultimate test of putting childhood wonder under the microscope to see, now knowing all the tricks behind the magic, if the architecture of my 13-year old memory would hold; and by that I mean, the feeling of ultimate awe and wonderment at a place that people built, now being a person who builds.
The answer is shockingly well. It's similar to going back and watching old Saturday Night Live sketches I loved as a kid; the jokes that went right over my head actually land this time, and makes the whole thing fresh again. Which is not to say that everything was as magical to me as it was in 1993, but a lot more of it was than I had expected.
As with any project, the memory of the space is in the details. The basics are important - that the building stands, doesn't leak and doesn't create new problems is prerequisite; but for that emotional connection, the details make it or break it. Especially when you're waiting an hour and a half in a line for a 2 minute ride.
I appreciated the inclusion of what looks like actual classic building panels and equipment salvaged from who-knows-where. They had this genuine old mining equipment on Thunder Mountain, that I could actually pay attention to now that I had the ability to keep my eyes open.
Some moments disappointed, but you can't get it all right. The control joints in the Campanile in EPCOT Italy annoyed me to no end. Maybe the contractor blew through all the contingency on the Norway log flume ride.
I found EPCOT Morocco to be my favorite - all of the EPCOT(tm) Countries had hidden details that I appreciated, but Morocco felt the most subtle - without the glitz and glamour of French waiters and Chinese acrobats, Morocco was a nice oasis of rest in an exhausting circus of ornament. And the food at the Marrakesh restaurant in the back, which you get to through a series of alleys and courtyards, was just as fantastic as the ambiance.
Eventually I became overwhelmed by all the details... I found myself investigating all the back alleys to see where the details stopped, but they just kept on going.
Even their ceiling tile grids made it past my eye at first... I stood under this one for an hour before realizing it was just your standard lay-in grid, albeit well decorated. So, safe to say, Disney gets a 100 on its punch list.