I have a great nostalgia/love for the EPCOT Center of my early childhood, especially Future World. I was fortunate that my early visits were to an EPCOT not much different than originally designed, and I was of the right age, curiosity and disposition that this was to be my formative and most endearing theme park experience. I was enthralled with attractions like Horizons, The Living Seas, the World of Motion and Spaceship Earth and would lobby to spend as much of our family WDW vacations as possible at or near the park.
With this conceptual piece, I won’t attempt to pontificate too much on the changes that transformed the place from EPCOT Center to today’s EPCOT, but show a vision of what I think could be done to resuscitate the energy, coherence, relevance and awe-inspiring nature the park once boasted:
To make sense, EPCOT Center again requires a guiding set of principles on place or theme. This existed in the beginning, but the park has lost much of it. And to make sense among the three other WDW parks, similar guidelines ought to apply. The idea is that by giving each park a strong, unique identity, the resort as a whole thrives and is more interesting and attractive to a wider audience. When TWDC makes Jack Sparrow, Pixies, Nemo, Mermaid, etc. available across multiple parks in multiple attractions and meet & greets, it dilutes the theme/atmosphere of each and makes these places less compelling, especially to the potentially large market that are interested in things other than Disney characters/IP. It isn’t completely communicated in this site plan, but I would generally remove most characters and toons from the EPCOT's attractions and spaces. EPCOT was born as a more sophisticated, less kid-oriented park and the version I’ve drafted returns to those roots. At the same time I’ve added some kid-friendly attractions that promote the park’s wider mission. (One day, maybe I’ll draft a version in the opposite direction, where every pavilion/country is converted to represent a Disney-Pixar brand (e.g. Ratatouille’s Paris, Wall-E’s Mission Space), but not today).
The theme of this park is… EPCOT Center. It is a one-of-a-kind concept... a permanent Worlds Fair, with one half providing cultural/historical representations of countries from around the globe, and the other half show-casing the story of Science, Technology & Humanity as they have evolved over centuries and where they are heading.
By far the easier challenge (of how to develop the two areas) was World Showcase. For the most part, I have made sure that each pavilion has at least one attraction of significance. Otherwise, it is just a nicely-themed - and very expensive - outdoor mall. I left a number of the original expansion pads empty because (i) I think the ‘forested’ separation between pavilions benefits this area of the Park, (ii) with all the additions this EPCOT Center as a whole is easily a 2-3 day park, so additional countries (aside from the one I’ve added) are not necessary.
I think well-themed and integrated KidCOT stations would be fine as long as the content is relevant to those countries’ cultures, not to Disney IP (e.g. no Aladdin in Morocco, Ratatouille in France, etc). I like the idea of an international spy-themed interactive game that triggers physical effects around the Lagoon, but I don’t care for the tv toon tie-ins, so the version here would be original and live-action based.
--Brazil was a pretty easy choice for the 12th country, given its rising prominence, the lack of South American representation, the popularity of WDW among Brazilians and that other candidates like India and Africa are already represented in Animal Kingdom. Brazil would feature an outdoor Amazon Rainforest boat ride featuring the anthropological and biological denizens of that forest. There would be a Brazilian steakhouse as well.
--Germany gets the indoor folklore boat ride, but unlike Rhine River Cruise, this one has a small drop element akin to Maelstrom.
--Italy, which currently represents mostly Venice, gets an exploratory trail passing through Imperial Roman ruins and into a crumbling Amphitheater (based on the Coliseum) where performances could take place or exhibits featured.
--Japan gets an omnimover, using mostly the existing castle, that presents AA scenes reviewing Japanese history (in the classic EPCOT style)
--The winding alleyways of Morocco lead past Marrakesh to a fortress courtyard, marking the entrance to an adventure ride.
--UK has two attractions added: a rotating AA show based on Dickens’ greatest works and a large indoor arcade and showspace themed to London’s classical facades. This would house a ride-tour of Britain’s history/lands.
--Finally, I always thought the outstanding water features, rockwork and canyon paths of Canada were wasted on something as mundane as Circlevision travelogue. Here, they are integrated in a significant mountain coaster – based on Canada’s Yukon. The mountain also serves to block the sight of Soarin’s showbuilding from much of World Showcase.
FUTURE WORLD CENTRAL: LESS IS MORE
To signify a sea-change and re-birth, Future World Central loses all of its original structures in the entrance plaza and core (save Spaceship Earth), many of which which have not aged overly well. Gone are:
-Earth Station (now housing that JibJab Project Tomorrow thing), while keeping a new smaller version as the necessary load/un-load station for Spaceship Earth
-Innoventions/Communicore East & West buildings
-The former Odyssey restaurant
-All the entrance logistical buildings, ticket booths and walkway covers
-The original monorail station.
-The current Fountain of Nations
-All the clutter, DVC kiosks, Cool Stations and outdoor vending carts.
-The Port of Entry shops in World Showacase get new buildings.
The new strucutres are lighter, cleaner, simpler Calatrava-like forms that curve and flow organically, from the new Monorail Station, to the canopied path, to the Life & Tech dining venues that embrace the new central fountain plaza, replacing Innoventions (taking up a small portion of its former footprint). The replacement of Innoventions allows more greenery and cleaner views of the park’s natural and man-made elements. Paths lead directly from Spaceship Earth both east and west, allowing easy navigation and traffic flow to Future World’s pavilions. A new, high-powered central fountain puts on periodic shows with Spaceship Earth as the backdrop (with viewing tiers & seating built into planters). The Life & Tech dining venues have elevated al fresca patios for full view of the fountain.
Between the turnstyles and Spaceship Earth (which would have a new script & new descent sequence; no Jib-Jab) are seven large granite discs with water flowing smoothly over them: each represents one of the seven pavilions (I did some quick alterations to Energy’s symbol to represent Space):
FUTURE WORLD EAST (LEFT)
I wanted to give a natural symmetry & balance to the park (feng shui), so I decided on three pavilions for each side that harken back the iconography & purpose of the originals. Rather than tackle narrow subjects (like a present-day automotive testing ground or present-day space training), each represents a wide area of science & tech. World of Motion would be Transportation and encompass The SimTrack (whith an enclosed outdoor portion, circuling a massive, highly-detailed blacklit City of Tomorrow model), emphasizing the centrality and future of the automobile to the world we live in. Visual clutter is the enemy in this version of the park, so the awning over the entrance goes. WoM would also include a version of Aquatopia (replacing the old Odyssey restaurant) that could showcase eco-friendly, water travel in a fun ride for small kids.
Journeys in Space covers Space Exploration & Resources. As a kid I loved The Living Seas, and it was fun imagining the Hydrolators were descending hundreds of feet underwater, even if I knew it was an illusion. With Journeys in Space, I think simulating an ‘actual’ trip to an offworld space station, while far less believable, is also more imaginitive and more fun than just acknowledging a type of training astronauts go through. In this EPCOT, the centrifuge ride now deposits the visitor to a futuristic Space Station (built into an asteroid or on Mars). The station is the old Wonders of Life building which is connected and re-themed to meld with the current Space building. The dome of Wonders would be “glass” looking out into the galaxy of stars (or the Martian sky). The main concourse of Station Brava has a restaurant and is the access point to additional Space attractions – adaptively re-using the facilities once used by WoL.
As a kid, Energy and The Land were the two Future World pavilions I was okay with skipping. Naturally, they’re the least altered today. Here, the still impressive Energy pavilion exterior is kept, but the interior is gutted and a new version of Horizons is built witin. The idea is not to re-build the original ride: I want to pay homage to what was great in the past and move forward on the path those designers set. None of the show-scenes here would be the same. The idea is to create a 21st Century Horizons (with a light thrill element) that has the same sort of feel & message (with maybe the same narrators and re-orchestrated score) as the original. In 2013, you may see an attraction layout for such a re-purposed UoE/New Horizons on IdealBuildout. It would cover future Energy sources, as a nod to the lost energy pavilion.
Side note regarding the use of actors/voice-over talent: the use of present-day, recognizable celebrities in any attractions (e.g. Martin Short, Ellen or that dude from Born on the 4th of July) should be avoided - it immediately dates the experience.
FUTURE WORLD WEST (RIGHT)
While FW East is tech-driven and features straight, angular paths, FW West is more nature-based and features curving paths and water features. Strangely, for someone who loves the original EPCOT, I can’t remember the original Imagination ride very well (although ImageWorks and the Serpentine fountains are strong, fond memories). From what I’ve read, the current version of the ride could use replacing. I came across the excellent EpcotLegacy.com site, where a talented designer created this idea for a future Imagination pavilion (link), so that’s what I labeled as going here.
The Land gets some additional front façade work (which I’ve always found underwhelming). Just as Space would feature a futuristic cosmos base, and Seas features and marine base of tomorrow, I think The Land central interior space could reflect a sort of “Terra Base Alpha” – an ecology & agriculture biodome or an Earth Monitoring Center. The symbiosis theater would be transformed into a biome/ecology lab or exhibits, the boat ride would remain largely the same, and Soarin’ would take on the theme of an aerial survey of the Earth’s lands and ecosystems (flying over the Serengeti, Borneo, Great Barrier Reef, Boreal forest, sustainable farms, ruined lands, etc.) This would be a specially-dedicated film (not shared with DCA).
The Seas loses any and all cartoon fish/turtles. Its façade is expanded/mirrored for a much larger experience. The original film stated “the sea is the engine that drives all the world’s weather.” As such, the new elements accessible via the re-designed Sea Base could focus on weather and feature a thrilling new E-ticket to draw crowds.
Finally, a new monorail spur heads past World of Motion to other WDW destinations (e.g. a monorail going from the TTC to DHS or DTD would veer off, while one arriving at EPCOT would do the full loop and stop at the station as it does today).