Universal Studios, Orlando Florida
Myth and legend become reality in a new resort for a prominent hotel flag.
S+A was the Design Architect for this major Florida resort hotel development, comprising over 3,000 rooms in 10 buildings surrounding an extensive pool and amenity area. The themed design evokes the glamour, optimism and playfulness of America at midcentury. Reminiscent without being “retro,” the design was carefully considered to create clean lines and elegant, reasonable spaces; it feels wholly new.
The project was organized as a series of concentric layers alternating function and entertainment. Punctuated by a striking multi-tiered diving platform, the poolside becomes the central zone from which all activity for the resort is generated. We named this area the “Toy Box,” evoking both fun and function. Various whimsical garden structures act as service pavilions, and picnic and game areas are located throughout this zone. These indoor-outdoor spaces allow guests a chance to revert to more playful identities, a “bathing suit existence.”
Creating a room around the Toy Box, guestrooms are located in long narrow buildings punctuated by feature circulation nodes. These structures are more rational, defined by a modest and functional menu of modernist design elements and architectural details. These include cantilevered slabs (catwalks) and punctured roof projections, pylon stair towers, mesh balcony railings, captured gardens, and prominent signage characteristic of many postwar resort hotels.
The parti evolved from the concept of the cabana colony prevalent in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. The cabana was versatile in Florida: a feature at modest swimming holes and “casinos,” as well as upscale oceanfront resorts. Cabana colonies were also a predecessor to the roadside hotel.
At this new resort, cabanas inform the culture of the place, the main elliptical pool and surrounding follies, where guests can relax and engage in a myriad of fun activities.
The complex is organized around a large central patio – a toy box of amenities. The patio is defined by the walls of the surrounding buildings, by water and landscape, and by architectural follies that animate its character.
Rising from the zero edge pool is a sculptural diving tower and lounge chairs ring the deck, backed by rows of cabanas.
The site plan is a layering of various indoor-outdoor spaces as a kit of parts radiating from the focal point of the courtyard within the elliptical main pool.
The toy box acts as the epicenter, surrounded by a buffer zone of green wayside picnic and shade areas for the guests.
Connecting the unit blocks are stair towers that provide both a joint between the unit blocks and a breezeway from the periphery parking through the courtyard.
A sweeping motor court, landscaped minimally for maximum effect, draws guests into the headhouse lobby building with its sculptural façade. This dramatic entrance belies the playful environment inside.
View of the passageway that surrounds the curved motor court. The façade is layered, and employs sunscreens for both solar screening and dramatic architectural effect.
Unit blocks are designed with the same characteristics of 1960s motels, as long bar buildings with rooms entered directly from the outside.
Mid-century architectural details such as perforated and extended overhangs are found throughout the resort.
Sculptural stair towers act as joints and breezeways connecting the parking to the building units and central court.
The “Toy Box” or central energy zone is the contemporary recreation of the cabana existence from the 1950s and ‘60s. It provides a multitude of recreational spaces and surrounding the main elliptical pool.
A curvilinear ramp punctures through the rear of the lobby head house entering the Toy Box.
Photos by Robin Hill