3. Theme Park Master Planning – Park Layout
by Peter Alexander
When people think of Master Planning, a lot of them think of how the park is arranged, which is what we call “park layout.”
There are as many ways to lay out a park as there are designers who do it, but a few have been used more often than not, so we’ll touch on those first.
The Disney approach, seen in the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, is what could be called the Icon Design Philosophy. The big Icon for Disney is the Castle at the end of Main Street, and that is also the one “visual contradiction” in that park-as there aren’t a lot of fairytale castles at the end of most American Main Streets. That visual contradiction is designed to “pull” you down Main Street, and that’s basically what the Icon Design Philosophy does-it provides you with big, visual landmarks that pull you through the park. Once you enter Tomorrowland, for example, you’ll see Space Mountain, which is located at the back of that “land” and pulls you to that point. The other Icons, the Matterhorn and Big Thunder Mountain work the same way, and they also help you figure out where you are in the park. If you see Big Thunder ahead of you, then Frontierland must be that way.
Probably the most popular park layout is the “loop” which was first developed by Randy Duell for Six Flags Over Texas, and can be found in more theme parks than any other kind of plan. The “loop” is exactly what it sounds like, a big promenade that circles the park. The good thing about it is that you never get lost, because you are always somewhere on the loop, so if you want to find the exit, just keep on walking. The bad part comes when you decide that the next ride you want to experience is on the other side of the park, and then you have a trek in store to reach it.
Beyond these layouts, there are dozens of others, notably the Universal Studios front lot/back lot plan, and then a whole lot of “I kept growing and growing so this is how I turned out” plans. Those are the places you get lost in, unless the directional graphics are really good.
But no matter what kind of plan you end up with, what really matters most to the guest is how much fun they are going to have, and that is determined by your “attraction mix.”