Amusement parks are controlled environments that entertain visitors through the
simulation of space, place, and experience. It is the element of control that is initially
most important in defining the building type because the amusement park presents itself
as a safe, and indeed sanitized, environment wherein conventionally dangerous or
arduous activities can be undertaken without fear of their consequences. The desire for
control leads to the necessity of simulating or fictionalizing each and every space and
event that the visitor to the park will experience. For this reason, amusement park
designers often treat their buildings and settings simply as film sets, facades that are
divorced from the function of their interiors and that are dismantled and changed at will.
In the early years of the 20th century, this transience was exacerbated by the fact that a
single designer was rarely responsible for more than one part of any park. In
combination, these factors render the task of determining who has designed the park, and
even its date of completion, difficult. This situation has changed in recent years, with
many respected architects, including Michael Graves, Robert Stern, Antoine Predock,
Frank Gehry, Robert Venturi, and Denise Scott Brown, accepting commissions for the
design of amusement parks and associated facilities (hotels and training centers). Major
20th-century amusement parks include Disneyland (1955) in Anaheim, Florida; Six Flags
over Texas (1961) near Fort Worth, Texas; Walt Disney World (1965) in Orlando,
Florida; Universal Studios (1970–80) in Los Angeles, California; Tokyo Disneyland
(1983) in Tokyo; and Fox Studios (1996–99) in Sydney.
One particular type of amusement park, the theme park, also rose to prominence in the
last half of the 20th century. The theme park is characterized by a limited set of welldefined
thematic boundaries. Typical theme parks include the Old Westflavored Knotts
Berry Farm (1940, 1970) in Anaheim, California; the theologically focused Bible World
(1975) in Orlando, Florida; the evolutionary-themed Darwin Centre (1995) in Edinburgh;
and the piratical Mundomar (1996) by Estudio Nombela on Spain’s Costa Blanca.
Despite these differences, the terms “theme park” and “amusement park” are often used
interchangeably to refer to any space that promotes enjoyment through simulation.
The origins of the amusement park are frequently traced to the 17th-century pleasure
gardens of England and France. One of the most famous of these parks was Vauxhall
Gardens in London, which first opened in 1661 and by 1728 contained mechanical rides,
parachute jumps, and balloon ascensions. Perhaps the most popular of these early
amusement parks was the Prater in Vienna, which became the site of the 1873 Vienna
World’s Fair and which featured both a primitive wooden Ferris wheel and one of the
first large carousels. However, although amusement parks first came to prominence in
Europe, it was in North America that they enjoyed their greatest success. One of the first
large American amusement parks was Jones’s Wood, which opened in New York in the
early years of the 19th century. Jones’s Wood comprised a loose collection of beer halls,
music houses, viewing platforms, dioramas, and shooting galleries. Rapid development of the
surrounding areas forced Jones’s Wood to close in the late 1860s just as a new era in
amusement park design was beginning on nearby Coney Island.
In 1897 George Tilyou erected a walled enclosure around his Steeplechase ride on
Coney Island. This act of enclosing the site and controlling entry to his rides is regarded
as a defining moment in 20th-century amusement park design. Of similar significance is
Tilyou’s claim that if “Paris is France, Coney Island, between June and September, is the
World” (McCullough, 1957, 291). With this statement, Tilyou set in motion the 20thcentury
amusement park obsession with spatial and cultural simulation. Tilyou believed
that by constructing replicas of famous building types from different parts of the world,
he could simulate the entire planet in such a way that it could be quickly, efficiently, and
safely experienced by large numbers of paying customers. Such was the success of
Steeplechase Park (1897) that two new Coney Island amusement parks, Luna Park (1903)
and Dreamland (1904), soon followed. Luna Park simulated a trip to the moon, and
Dreamland featured a number of attractions, including a partial reconstruction of Pompeii
(complete with simulated eruptions on the hour) and a six-story building where customers
could experience an office fire firsthand. Such was the success of this building type that
by 1919 there were more than 1,500 amusement parks in North America, although the
Depression saw this figure drop to barely 200 financially viable parks in the 1940s. It was
not until the 1950s that Walt Disney revitalized the industry with his themed zones
(Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland) and his focus on the
traditional values of middle America. The success of Disneyland at Anaheim saw a string
of similar Disney parks opened around the world, including EPCOT (1982) in Florida
and the more controversial EuroDisney (1992) near Paris. This friction between the
“real” and the “simulated” or “virtual” is evident in many recent amusement park
designs. At one extreme, amusement parks are increasingly producing more complex and
realistic electronic simulations. Virtual World (1981–92) in San Diego, California;
Acurinto (1996) in Nagasaki; and SegaWorld (1996–98) in Sydney each feature
extensive electronic, or video game, environments. In sharp contrast to this trend is the
rise in amusement parks that promote ecotourism as a “real” experience. Mitsuru Man
Senda’s Asahikawa Shunkodai Park (1994) and his Urawa Living Museum (1995) in
Urawa are examples of parks that advocate a “genuine” appreciation of the environment
or history of the “real world.” Ironically, in many respects each of these extremes is as
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 92
artificial as the other. The only difference is that in one environment the simulation is
glorified, whereas in the other it is repressed or hidden.

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