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

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Disney's Dream Town

Large red building with large clock in Celebration, Florida
Market Street Gallery in Celebration, Florida. Photo © 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.

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.

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Celebration Town Center

Typical town square near the post office and sidewalk cafes under awnings
Celebration, Florida is an idealized vision of small town America. Photo © Jackie Craven

The master plan for Celebration, Florida was created by Robert A.M. Stern and Jaquelin Robertson. They modeled Celebration after small American towns and neighborhoods from the early 1900s.

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 a small, man-made lake. This arrangement encourages leisurely strolls and lingering meals at outdoor cafes.

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Post Office by Michael Graves

Cylindrical blue Post Office in Celebration, Florida designed by Michael Graves
Post Office in Celebration, Florida designed by Michael Graves. Photo © Jackie Craven

The small post office by 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 and Associates website

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 and Associates website

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

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Town Hall by Philip Johnson

The Old Town Hall in Celebration, Florida, designed with many columns by Philip Johnson
The Old Town Hall in Celebration, Florida, designed with many columns by Philip Johnson. Photo © Jackie Craven

In the planned community of Celebration, Florida, right next to the Post Office designed by Michael Graves, stands the Town Hall. Architect Philip Johnson designed the public building with traditional, classical columns. Visually, the Town Hall is similar to the US Supreme Court Building by Cass Gilbert or 19th century Greek Revival House Styles.

Yet, the startling structure has been called a postmodern building. Instead of a symmetrical row of imposing round columns, 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.

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Celebration's New Town Hall

Celebration, Florida's New Town Hall
Celebration, Florida's New Town Hall. Photo © 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.

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Stetson University Center

Stetson University Center in Celebration, Florida
Stetson University Center in Celebration, Florida. Photo © 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.

Source: About the Center at Celebration, Stetson University website [accessed November 27, 2013]

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Bank by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown

The Bank in Celebration, Florida by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown
The Bank in Celebration, Florida by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Photo © 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.

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The Googie Style Cinema by Cesar Pelli

Architect Cesar Pelli & Associates designed the Art Deco / Googie cinema in Celebration, Florida.
Architect Cesar Pelli & Associates designed the Art Deco / Googie cinema in Celebration, Florida. Photo © Jackie Craven

Architect Cesar Pelli & Associates designed the Googie 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.

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Hotel by Graham Gund

Celebration Hotel by Graham Gund
Celebration Hotel by Graham Gund. Photo © 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."

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.

Source: Disney's Hotel Celebration, Gund Partnership [accessed November 27, 2013]

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Architectural Details in Celebration, FL

A parapet and two chimneys placed on a roof as architectural ornamentation in Celebration, Florida
A parapet and two chimneys placed on a roof as architectural ornamentation in Celebration, Florida. Photo © 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 of Celebration, Florida used similar colors and materials for all the buildings.

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Celebration Health

Celebration Health, 1998, designed by Robert A. M. Stern
Celebration Health, 1998, designed by Robert A. M. Stern. Photo © 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.