Resorts are a series of glorified motels dressed up in full pop-culture regalia. Eschewing subtlety and nuance for zip and pizzazz, the architects have created a live-in playground where exterior stairs pose as three-story megaphones and parapets dance like brightly colored waves. Like everything else in the Disney universe, the All-Star Resorts are aggressively themed: Phase I is sports, and Phase II will be music. Each phase includes five pairs of three-story residential buildings, a couple of themed swimming pools, and a one-story commercial building with registration lobby, stores, food court, and video arcade. With its relentless attack on the senses, this is an architecture of instant gratification.
The challenge for the architects at Miami-based Arquitectonica and Dallas-based HKS, Inc. was to work within a tight budget and short construction schedule without giving the project the appearance of "Disney Lite." The first thing they did was design simple concrete-slab buildings following the classic model of motel planning, using exterior balconies instead of interior hallways. By keeping the structures simple, repeating the same plan for each residential building, and using inexpensive materials, the architects were able to lavish attention on the exteriors where fiberglass, perforated-metal sheeting, and foam board are shaped into a myriad of decorative forms.
"What we did was create three-dimensional collages," explains Bernardo Fort-Brescia, an Arquitectonica principal. The major elements in these collages are the buildings' parapets, balcony railings, and exterior stairs. By attaching oversized baseball bats, basketball hoops, surf boards, and team banners to the railings; sculpting the parapets into waves, stars, and letters; and using giant football helmets, referee whistles, and megaphones as pop icons, the designers create the illusion of complexity and animation. As Arquitectonica does in many of its projects, it plays here with changing scales, strong colors, and the element of surprise.
Each phase of the resort is laid out as a sequence of paired motels in which the spaces between the buildings are important elements in the full experience. By splaying some buildings away from each other and aligning others in parallel rows, the architects created a variety of outdoor rooms that double as basketball courts or mock gridirons or swimming areas. After checking in at the commercial building and parking near their motel, guests can walk along meandering paths that cut between clusters of cypress trees and lead from one sport or musical genre to another. "The outdoor spaces, the landscaping, holds everything together," says Fred Roberts, the HKS principal in charge of the project. "From a distance, you see a skyline of unusual objects," explains Fort-Brescia. "With its contrasting scales, colors, and materials, it's like a real city."