Critiquing the Square

I don't generally discuss Disney park criticism, at least not publicly.  The debate over the past few years' changes at Disney parks can often turn ugly, with arguments and rhetoric not unlike the current political climate in this country--one side proclaiming gloom and doom with every progressive change and the other side counter-reacting to this sensationalism with mockery and satire, or defending Disney's moves to fervent degree.  Colloquial terms such as "foamers" have even sprung up to describe those who often vociferously and routinely criticize the new additions at Disney parks, and entire communities have taken sides over whether this progress is really that, or whether it's actually ruinous regression from classic Disney quality.

I consider myself on the more positive-looking side of Disney park fandom... the "anti-foamer" if you will.  Although I acknowledge that not all changes at the parks are flawless (indeed, there are still aspects of Resort operations that I take issue with), I recognize the realities and challenges of running a complex operation and business.  I know that not everything can be perfect, and I've generally been pleased with the improvements Disney has invested into its parks.  To me, those who constantly decry new additions and changes and never seem satisfied are irrational, because they have a habit of asserting their opinions as fact, promoting arguments across various topics that end up hypocritical, and/or reacting with negativity and vitriol disproportionate to the significance of the subject at hand.  It's one thing to have an opinion--dissenting or not. It's another to constant proselytize in apocalyptic terms, with unending antagonism toward the park and its designers, and attack other people who disagree.

Balance is key.  I believe that most people who've either gone through the revamped New Orleans Square or who've seen overview photos such as the ones I posted Monday will agree that the place looks great.  The atmosphere and space still feel the same as before the Club 33 refurbishment, and there's been beautiful craftsmanship and detail paid to this area.  I doubt that any rational person would decry New Orleans Square as now being "ruined" or be "disgusted" or "sickened" or "appalled" by the changes that have occurred.  Indeed, the average guest would likely not even be able to identify the vast majority of changes that have happened.

Now, it's not all roses, of course.  Having wandered through New Orleans Square on two separate occasions since the refurbishments were revealed, I do still take issue on several results of the refurbishment.  So in taking the perspective of someone who actually practices architecture for a living, here are six notable aspects of New Orleans Square I wish had been improved.

The asymmetry of the added window in the main Club 33 dining room has been the source of endless criticism.
ONE: The Off-Centered New Window Above Cafe Orleans
This one has been routinely criticized within the Disney fan community as an example of the downgrade in Disney quality and design.  And I have to agree--this piece of architecture looks glaringly flawed.  As part of the Club 33 refurbishment, a large window was added on the second floor. However, when viewed from the outside, it is blatantly off center on a facade that is otherwise completely symmetrical. 

Admittedly, it is only most prominent when viewed straight on and less noticeable when seen at an angle.
This is the sort of thing that any architect would label as a mistake, since there's no apparent reason for the shift to the right.  On the other hand, it seems so glaringly bad that it would be unlikely that no designer caught this oversight at any time during the design process.  Indeed, there is a reason for the asymmetry.  When viewed from the interior, the window is centered.  And since the Club 33 remodel was the focus of project, this took precedence.

Still, I feel a better solution could have been arrived at.  For one, it doesn't appear that the window is even perfectly centered inside either.  The pilaster and soffit that run on one side could have been removed and shifted over in a manner that would have allowed the window to be centered on the outside and maintain symmetry inside. It may have required more work, but Club 33 has pretty much been completely remodeled inside anyway.  In its current condition, I doubt any additional exterior treatment will mitigate this very odd-looking condition, unless the entire facade down to the first floor is changed.

The hallway from the lobby to the main dining room has been greatly widened, with new full height windows added.
TWO: The New Windows Above Cristal d'Orleans
Much has been made about the new windows added all around the second level of New Orleans Square.  People have decried how Club 33 members will now be able to literally "look down" onto the masses below, and there has been a noticeable resentment toward this physical projection of snobbery.  Conversely, there has also been criticism that the general public can in turn see into Club 33--something that was not possible prior to the remodel, and this ruins the mystique of the club.

Ground level pedestrians can easily see into the this particular confine of Club 33.
For the most part, I think all the talk of these "horrible new windows" is overblow.  Through most of New Orleans Square, the second floor windows blend in with the existing facade, and given that Club 33 has always had windows that allowed views outside, it's silly to argue as though the new windows mark a drastic change.

One area where I think they may have placed too many windows, though, occurs above the Cristal d'Orleans shop.  But I don't have an issue with visual privacy or lack thereof.  Instead, I feel that the windows over the bridge part of hallway they allow light into defeat the illusion presented in the facade treatment that they are two different spaces inside.  As you can see from these three photos, the hallway flows all the way through, and if that wasn't a hint, seeing someone walk by definitely detracts from the illusion.  While I don't think this particular elevation looks bad aesthetically (nor do I think it really hurts the scale of New Orleans Square as some have claimed), it just seems like the message communicated by the design is a bit conflicting.

The outside presents the two second floor blocks as separate spaces, but the windows clearly reveal the continuous flow of space within.
THREE: Interface Between the New Bridge and the Existing Facade Balconies
As part of the Club 33 expansion, a new dining room was built on the second floor above the French Market, and to connect this to the existing dining room above Cafe Orleans, a new bridge was built to span the distance.  Unfortunately, this entailed cutting through beautiful wrought iron framed balcony on the second floor of the French Market wing of New Orleans Square.

The balcony has clearly been cut to make way for the bridge.
It must be said that this area was not complete when I visited last weekend.  Thus, I am reserving final judgment for when this area is completed.  Gaps in the railing certainly look strange, as do a lack of return in the ironwork, and this has come under fire.  But clearly, there remains work to do, and sometimes (too often, in my experience, it seems), construction projects simply run late.

How the ironwork below the balcony meets the bridge is awkward.
What won't be fixed simply with punch walk comments is the relationship between the balconies and the bridge, though.  Generally in architectural design, when two different materials come together, there is a clean intersection by way of a deliberate offset between the two, either in plane or in height.  In addition, a solid element typically becomes the more dominant feature over an element that is wholly or partially see-through.  However, in this case, the wrought iron below the balcony is lower than bottom of the bridge, and since the wrought iron is what was cut, the roughness of the modification is exaggerated. 

On the other side of the bridge, the relationship is more apparent.
When I initially saw zoomed in photos of this condition, I wondered why the designers didn't simply lower the bottom of the bridge. That way, ironwork could have terminated cleanly at the stucco wall in a manner that looked more natural.  However, after walking through the area, I realized that the bottom of the bridge had to be higher than the tops of the posts that support the second floor overhang above Cristal d'Orleans, and the designers chose to make it a little higher than even the beam that connects across the posts.

This condition, I think, could have been resolved if the designers had simply aligned the bottom of the bridge with the top of the columns.  But if that still resulted in an area where the bottom of the below-balcony wrought iron was still lower than the bottom of the bridge, then I would have made the decision to remove that part of the balcony, so that it could meet the bridge neatly.  As it is now, the interface between the two elements again looks like an errant oversight and lack of detailing between two elements.

The cuts are clearly apparent, and the ironwork below the balcony being lower than the bottom of the bridge emphasizes the rough-looking nature in which the bridge was inserted through.
FOUR: Plain Articulation of the Facade of the Other Existing Bridge
Compared to the three dimensional and projecting nature of every other facade in New Orleans Square, the shutters-behind-wrought-iron look of this bridge, spanning from the second floor near the New Orleans Square restrooms to the space above French Market (now the "Salon Nouveau" dining room of Club 33, appears flat and inconsistent with the aesthetic of the rest of the land.

It seems peculiar to have wrought iron directly in front of a wall of shutters.
It's very possible that this part has not been completed, and that there will be future work on the facade to render something with more depth.  But at the moment, it stands out in weird contrast to the richness and elegance of the rest of New Orleans Square.  The juxtaposition of these two architectural elements doesn't seem natural.  Architecturally, it's a bit of a head scratcher.

This looks more like a last minute fix to dress a wall before it is uncovered for the public than a permanent design.
FIVE: The New Club 33 Logo
This gripe, I fully admit, and completely subjective.  But I still have an issue with the new logo for Club 33.  The previous logo featured clean lines and a classic presence.  The new logo seems more muddled and messy looking.  And while I understand that the new design is to go with the Art Nouveau aesthetic that WDI designer Kim Irvine has applied to the Club 33 expansion, I still much prefer the graphic.

The doorbell to the relocated entrance of Club 33 is much more prominent and ornate than its previous version.
Admittedly, in context, the logo is less displeasing, and I'm sure that I will get used to it as time passes.  For now, I still dislike it.  But make no mistake about it--this item is solely my opinion, and others may find the logo to be perfectly acceptable or an improvement upon the previous version!

The new entrance is still relatively understated, but definitely less anonymous than the old entrance.
SIX: The Loss of the Court of Angels
This one has been a sore subject this past year.  On one hand, the Court des Anges was a little-known quiet space that most guests of Disneyland overlooked or walked past without giving a second thought.  On the other hand, it was a beautiful oasis of tranquility that afforded an escape from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Disneyland, and one of the dwindling number of spaces that had remained untouched since the days Walt Disney himself walked the park. 

The Court of Angels is now hidden behind a pair of faux stained glass gates--one on each entry into the old courtyard.
When news broke that the Court would be closed to the public and incorporated into the Club 33 fold, there was protest among a small group of enthusiasts who were especially fond of this space.  The history and beauty were quite important to them, and they were outraged that such a tranquil and special area would be taken away from the general public.  Counter-protesting groups dismissed these sentiments as over-reactions, citing that "they're just stairs" and mocking the exuberance with which the pro-Court of Angels group rallied those who shared their opinions.

My opinion?  Both sides had valid points.  Truthfully, I do miss the Court of Angels.  In addition being a spectacular setting for photos, it was a very nice and peaceful setting for self-reflection and relaxation.  And given the fact that it's now literally shut off from regular park-going members, and in light of politico-economic movements in today's America, I understand the "99% vs 1%" mentality that this evokes.  Even if that's not the intended message the Imagineers sought to send, it's the message that many people receive, which can be just as damaging.  At the same time, as saddened as I am at the loss, it is still but one small space within a theme park with no true historic (as in human history) value, and losing regular access to the Court is not a devastating turn of events.  Indeed, there are much more important concerns in the world than missing a hidden secret that most guests wouldn't think twice about.

Now, the only ways to see it are to either dine in Club 33 or peak through the small gap between the gate leafs.
And at the end of the day, that is the biggest point I offer.  Disneyland is a special and magical place that has carved indelible memories in millions of people's hearts.  But it's important to remember that it is still a place of entertainment, and it is not the most precious thing that one can claim. 

The passion and enthusiasm that many Disney fans have can be a great and wonderful thing, but not when it is to such a degree that people lose perspective and react with visceral vile when they encounter a change they do not approve.  It's especially unhealthy when every change becomes a negative change, due to unreasonably high standards or the dogmatic maintenance to the speculative standards of what Walt Disney himself "would have done."  History and memories are important, but life's constant is that things change, and that requires acceptance.  Disapproval is fine, but recognize when opinions are exactly that, and don't cling to subjective beliefs so fervently that they become reality and then attack dissidents who express opinions counter to this belief that has become your reality.

Things change, and people are often afraid to embrace them.  Paris thought the Eiffel Tower was a monstrosity when it debuted, but it's now the icon of the city.  When Fantasyland was renovated in 1983, the original facades and designed touched by Walt Disney and the original Imagineers themselves were forever shuttered, but I think pretty much everyone now would agree that the resulting Bavarian village aesthetic was a vast improvement.  Could you imagine the uproar of preservationists who might have insisted that Fantasyland should never change because it was a Walt Disney original, though? 

I have a feeling that in a few decades, the new and perturbing-to-some-people changes in New Orleans Square will be accepted as classic. Just give it time. Even if you disapprove, remember: nothing is ever really that bad. At least not at the Happiest Place on Earth.


  1. Well done. Nice to see a well thought out look at the changes.

  2. Thanks, Mike! Glad you enjoyed the read.


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