Tuesday, July 29, 2008
For most of us, Walt Disney Imagineering is a Disney company creating wonders for Disney theme parks all around the world. And, at 99% that's right. But sometime, it happens that WDI Imagineers create other wonders, and not for a Disney theme park. The Theme Building Encounter restaurant at Los Angeles airport is one of them.
The Theme Building was part of an overall $50 million " Los Angeles Jet Age Terminal " project which began in 1960, the building itself was completed in August 1961. with giant 135 foot high parabolic arches, the Theme Building was at that time the first structure in the U.S to utilize supporting steel arches of this design. And what a design, it looks like a space ship - or a flying saucer - that just lands on Earth! On December 18, 1992, the los angeles City Council designated the Theme Building a city cultural and historical monument. A Los Angeles icon with a kind of Tomorrowland architecture, may be this is why Walt Disney Imagineers agreed with enthusiasm when they were asked to redesign the Theme Building back in 1995.
And who were the WDI Imagineers who did it? Eddie Sotto - the great Imagineer who was Main Street show producer at Disneyland Paris - the best Main Street of all Magic Kingdoms - led the design team. Ellen Guevara, another WDI Imagineer also worked with Eddie on the Encounter Restaurant interior design. And the gorgeous lighting of the exterior was done by WDI lighting specialist - i should say "wizard" - Michael Valentino.
So, let's have a closer look at this Encounter Restaurant with original Eddie Sotto sketches, model pictures and photos of the real thing. Here is a photo of Eddie Sotto doing the concept sketch of the Encounter "red room" in his office at WDI in Glendale. Below, the "red room" sketch.
With the futuristic exterior of the building, WDI Imagineers must have felt that the best choice was to go space-age design with the interior, and, as you will see, they were right.
The intergalactic theme of the interior creates an out-of-this world "experience". Eddie and his team designed flowing walls sculpted to appear as stone quarried from the moon - here are Eddie's sketches.
Eddie also designed furniture and decor elements of the Encounter.
But one of Eddie's favorite creations were these "lava lamps" that guests can find all over the place whether the lava is "red" or "blue"!
The amoeba-shaped lighting structures embedded in the ceilings - visible from the outside - cast soft shadows on the restaurant. And the customized lava lights add a "lounge" feel to the futuristic and stratospheric atmosphere.
And there is this unique crater-shaped bar - above and below - complete with bar guns that emit lasers lights and futuristic sound effects when bartenders pour a drink!
Los Angeles designer Lisa Krohn created the bar stools and the pod-like chairs that appear to float in the air. The carpeting was designed by Sotto and Guevara and also features flowing lines. No patterns are repeated on the entire floor!
" Encounter transforms LAX into an intergalactic gateway accomodating space flights to and from other worlds " said Eddie Sotto. " the sophisticated sci-fi feel of the interior provides the perfect backdrop for what i call " jet set " dining in a space age atmosphere ". And the space-age experience even starts at the entrance downstairs where a hostess in silver costume directs you to the elevator, saying "Have a nice encounter!". By the way, the elevator was also redesigned and features galactic graphics and sound effects!
The stunning exterior lighting by Michael Valentino - a crowning touch to the space age themed restaurant - play an integral part in setting the unearthly tone. Michael's lighting program bathe the building with constantly changing shades such as magenta and electric blue, in addition to traditional white lights.
The Imagineers also designed special atmosphere music for the restaurant - the sound effects will remind you classic sci-fi movies of the 50's. Click below on the embedded 360 degree picture link. The 360 degree effect won't work probably, but you'll hear the music.
Right now the Theme building structure is under renovation, but the Encounter restaurant is still open. So, next time you come to Los Angeles to visit Disneyland, on your way back home, remember to keep one hour or two before you check-in at LAX airport, and come to have dinner at the fabulous Encounter restaurant. Not only the food is excellent, but it will be your last "shoot" of WDI magic before you go back home!
Artwork and model pictures: copyright Walt Disney Company
Encounter Photos: copyright WDC, Encounter restaurant and Eric Sander