Celebration, Florida - Disney's Plan for an Ideal Community

Walt Disney's Florida Dream Town

Large red building with large clock on side of traditional cupola, palm tree lined street
Market Street Gallery in Celebration, Florida. Jackie Craven

Celebration, Florida is a planned community created by the real estate development division of The Walt Disney Company. The Disney Company commissioned famous architects to create the master plan and to design the buildings for the community. Anyone can go there and look at the architecture, for free. Anyone can live there, too, but many people believe the homes and apartments are overpriced. Before you buy, hop in the car and head toward Lake Rianhard and the center of the town experience.

Established in 1994, Celebration has the flavor of a southern American village from the 1930s. About 2,500 homes of limited styles and colors are clustered around a small, pedestrian-friendly shopping area. The first residents moved in during the summer of 1996, and the Town Center was completed that November. Celebration is often cited as an example of New Urbanism, or neo-traditional town design.

In 2004, the Disney Company sold the 16-acre town center near Orlando to Lexin Capital, a private real estate investment company. However, Market Street still has a storybook atmosphere that some visitors call "Disney-esque." There is a Caribbean flavor to many of the buildings here. Sided in brightly-colored stucco, the Market Street buildings have wide overhangs, shutters, verandas, and arcades.

Celebration Town Center

Typical town square near a cylindrical post office and sidewalk cafes under awnings
Celebration, Florida, an Idealized Vision of Small Town America. Jackie Craven

The master plan for Celebration was created by architects Robert A.M. Stern and Jaquelin T. Robertson. Both men are urban planners and designer who modeled Celebration after small American towns and neighborhoods from the early 1900s. Visually the town is a living snapshot of the past.

Businesses mingle with living quarters in the Celebration Town Center. From the town square, complete with fountain, it's an easy walk to the cylindrical blue post office. Shops, restaurants, offices, banks, a movie theater, and a hotel cluster along a walkway that circles the small, man-made Lake Rianhard. This arrangement encourages leisurely strolls and lingering meals at outdoor cafes.

Post Office by Michael Graves

Cylindrical blue Post Office with red dome roof, red columns, and a porthole window above the door
U.S. Post Office Designed by Michael Graves. Jackie Craven

The small post office by architect and product designer Michael Graves is shaped like a silo with playful porthole windows. Celebration's USPS building is often cited as an example of postmodern architecture.

"Its simple massing is composed of two parts: a rotunda that serves as the public entrance, and a rectangular block with an open-air loggia where the mailboxes are located." —  Michael Graves & Associates

Arched beams radiate like spokes inside the domed roof. Graves' design for Celebration, Florida was well thought out:

"The design intention was to give the post office a character and institutional presence that would respect the traditions of the building type and its Floridian context. The rotunda provides a hinge between the town hall and shops and announces this small building's presence as an important public institution, while the form of the loggia, the materials and coloration are typical of traditional Florida architecture." — Michael Graves & Associates

Graves' design stands as a foil to the nearby Philip Johnson-designed Town Hall.

Town Hall by Philip Johnson

multiple white columns under a hipped roof hide the entrance the entire buiding
The Old Town Hall Designed by Philip Johnson. Jackie Craven

In the planned community of Celebration, Florida, right next to the Post Office designed by Michael Graves, stands the old Town Hall. Architect Philip Johnson designed the public building with traditional, classical columns. In theory this Town Hall is similar to any other neoclassical building, like the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C  or any 19th century antebellum Greek Revival plantation house.

Yet, the startling structure has been called postmodern because it pokes fun at the Classical need for columns. Instead of a symmetrical row of imposing round columns, 52 thin pillars crowd together beneath a pyramid-shaped roof.

Is it a spoof of a traditional town hall building or serious public architecture? In a Disney-created world, the playful Johnson is in on the joke. The fantasy of Celebration becomes the reality.

Celebration's New Town Hall

Town Hall sign with scupture on top -- picket fence, tree, child on bike being chased by a dog
Celebration, Florida's New Town Hall. Jackie Craven

Just outside the Town Center, past Stetson University, is the real Celebration Town Hall, right next to the Celebration Little League fields. The town quickly outgrew Philip Johnson's design, which remains a great tourist attraction as a welcoming center.

The new town hall has features similar to many of the public buildings in Celebration. The stucco facade and square, lighthouse-like tower advances a nautical theme.

The cutout as part of the Town Hall sign promotes the values of Celebration — trees, picket fences, and dogs chasing kids riding bicycles.

Stetson University Center

brick facade with emblem, attached curved brick building
Stetson University Center in Celebration, Florida. Jackie Craven

Stetson University Center at Celebration, Florida opened in September 2001 as a graduate and professional education arm of the first private university in Florida.

The semi-circular building borders a preserved Florida wetland and attempts to become environmentally integrated with the surroundings. When the architects designed the University, Deamer + Phillips incorporated colors, shapes, and textures from the surrounding landscape. Green is the dominant color inside the University building, and every classroom has a window with scenic views.

Bank by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

Sun Trust Bank, The Bank of Celebration, with a three-sided facade, person on bike in nearby street
The Bank Designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Jackie Craven

Architect Robert Venturi says that he is not a postmodernist. However, there is certainly a retro look to the Celebration, Florida bank designed by partners Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

Molded to fit the shape of the street corner it occupies, Celebration's local bank is as planned as the community. The design playfully resembles a 1950s-era gas station or hamburger restaurant. Colorful stripes wrap around the white facade. More significantly is that the three-sided facade is reminiscent of the old J.P. Morgan financial institution, the House of Morgan at 23 Wall Street near the U.S. Stock Exchange building.

The Googie Style Cinema by Cesar Pelli

movie theater with curves and towers, looking very jazzy and modern
Architect Cesar Pelli & Associates Designed the Art Deco / Googie cinema. Jackie Craven

Architect Cesar Pelli & Associates designed the googie style cinema in Celebration, Florida. The two spires are playful reminders of futuristic architecture from the 1950s.

Pelli's design is in sharp contrast with Celebration's Post Office by Michael Graves or the Town Hall by Philip Johnson. Yet, it fits into the themed look of definitive architecture found in a small town of the past, before any "golden arches" or super center grocery stores take over.

Hotel by Graham Gund

lighthouse-looking towers and hipped roof with dormers, three-story white hotel near a manmade lake
Celebration Hotel by Graham Gund. Jackie Craven

Graham Gund designed the 115-room "inn" at Celebration, Florida. Nestled along the Town Center lake, Gund's hotel suggests a Newport mansion with a Caribbean flavor.

Gund took inspiration from the wooden Florida structures of the 1920s, as Disney's Hotel Celebration "settled into the landscape."

"It also echoes the actual history of many small-town inns, which grew from landmark houses over time. Design elements associated with older, landmark homes in resort areas include dormers, balconies, awnings and substantial roof overhangs." — Gund Partnership

Like many of the commercial buildings in Celebration, original design intentions can take a twist. When Gund's Celebration Hotel changed ownership, southern charm and elegance was replaced by the artsy avant garde of the Bohemian Hotel Celebration. It may change again.

Architectural Details in Celebration, FL

A parapet and two chimneys placed on a roof as architectural ornamentation above a second story porch
Morgan Stanley in Celebration, Florida. Jackie Craven

Commercial buildings in Celebration express architectural designs of an earlier era. For example, the financial giant Morgan Stanley is not housed in a sleek, modern office building. Its office in Celebration could be from the 19th century San Francisco Gold Rush days.

Homes and apartments in Celebration, Florida are mostly Neotraditional versions of historic styles such as Colonial, Folk Victorian, or Arts & Crafts. Many of the dormers on the buildings throughout the village are just for show. Like the chimneys and parapet of the Morgan Stanley building, functional architectural elements are often fake in Celebration.

Critics of Celebration, Florida say that the town is "too planned" and feels bland and artificial. But residents often praise the continuity of the town. Many different styles harmonize because the designers used similar colors and materials for all the buildings throughout the planned community.

Celebration Health

elegant Spanish-inspired building facade, red tile roof, arched entry, and lighthouse-like tower with windows at top
Celebration Health, 1998, Designed by Robert A. M. Stern. Jackie Craven

Further outside the Town Square is a major medical facility. Designed by postmodernist architect Robert A. M. Stern, Celebration Health combines Spanish-influenced Mediterranean stylings with, again, that large, dominating tower seen on so many of the public buildings in Celebration. The function of the glassed-in top is unclear, as it is not open to the public.

The entrance and lobby, however, are open to the public. The open, three-floor design is a perfect hub of art and wellness.

Sources

  • Michael Graves and Associates, http://www.michaelgraves.com/architecture/project/united-states-post-office.html [accessed May 31, 2014]
  • About the Center at Celebration, Stetson University, http://www.stetson.edu/celebration/home/about.php [accessed November 27, 2013]
  • Disney's Hotel Celebration, Gund Partnership, http://www.gundpartnership.com/Disneys-Hotel-Celebration [accessed November 27, 2013]