In Rio de Janeiro’s vacant courtyards, four architecture graduate students see untapped potential. As they walk, the walls fade away, submerging them into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, their faces inches away from a dolphin’s elongated rostrum.
As part of a design competition, four UCLA students envisioned this scene to represent the culture and history of Brazil’s second largest city.
The team of four students is one of six finalist teams in Walt Disney Imagineering’s annual design competition, Imaginations. This year, the competition asked entrants to come up with a concept that would transform existing architecture in a large urban area into an innovative and magical experience for residents and tourists.
The six teams spent the past week at the Imagineering headquarters in Glendale, presenting their projects to Imagineers, Disney’s name for designers who work on attractions for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. The winners will be announced on Friday, Jan. 31.
The UCLA team is comprised of four master’s of architecture students: Jacob Bloom, Krysten Burton, Dema Hajmurad and Derek Woods.
Some UCLA team members prepared for the project through a class titled “Building Stories.” Hajmurad said the seminar, taught by Imagineer Zach Riddley during spring 2012, immersed Burton and herself in storytelling and Disney culture.
“Disney is a lot about narrative storytelling, so all the rides (in the parks) have storytelling about them, but the story also defines what the architecture is,” Burton said.
The team chose Rio de Janeiro for its entry because the four were enticed by the potential stories they could uncover.
“We thought that Rio is a very vibrant city that has a lot to offer in terms of culture and architecture,” Hajmurad said. “As architecture students, what really drew us towards it were the favelas, the artists’ works that are painted on the favelas, the overall infrastructure, the color palette and what it has to offer.”
Bloom said that another reason Rio de Janeiro was in the forefront of their minds was its relevance as the host city for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. Hajmurad said that some of the themes of their project highlight the Carnival celebration and Brazil’s pride in soccer.
Burton said the finalists came up with a concept combining digital images with physical infrastructure. Their concept involves creating an interactive projection system, which would change weekly, at 15 courtyards in Rio de Janeiro. The journey the team envisions begins with people following butterflies projected throughout Rio de Janeiro, which would lead them to the courtyards.
“The courtyards already exist in Rio,” Woods said. “We want to revitalize those areas and bring all the communities together, and bring them to places they haven’t seen. We’re upgrading the courtyards with themed interaction shows.”
The team imagines one courtyard with an aquatic theme, where fish and dolphins would surround participants. The installation would be interactive, allowing visitors to cause ripple effects in the water or make fish swim away.
Woods said the project name, “Ilhavela,” is a combination of two words the team chose to describe its goal, “illumination” and “favela.”
Bloom said that the four sought to positively feature technology in their project, in contrast to how technology can make people more internalized and separated from others.
“We can help people explore their city, rather than let them use technology to ignore the world around them,” Bloom said. “We let them connect with other people.”
Woods said that although he has forgotten the rides during his first Disneyland trip, he remembers how he had never seen his dad run in his life until his family tried to run from line to line.
Channeling some of the Disney magic in their own project, the finalists said they believe everyone, both old and young, can enjoy a Disney experience. Hajmurad said that she doesn’t think she has grown up after all.