Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde Approaches Life as Immersive Art
Written by Cindy Marie Jenkins on Tuesday, August 15th, 2017 at 9:44am.
Here at Nook, we have a passion for people, places and properties. There is a reason that we say people first, for what makes a neighborhood special if not the people who live there? Welcome to #TastemakerTuesday, where we’ll feature the visionaries in our favorite nooks who are dedicated to building a better community through their talents.
Some Instagram accounts are all about food, or kids, or lounging on exotic beaches to make your followers jealous. Some are about selling products and others capture the treasures you find on a good walk. Some brands found their niche early, using the image based storytelling to expand their brand and not just publicize it; National Geographic’s feed is a great example of this.
Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde uses Instagram as an extension of his work in theme park design to tell stories from around the world. He travels frequently, stamping his Instagram feed like a passport through many airports, expressing the architectural beauty and emotions evoked by each place through which he passes. If you ever read Invisible Cities, Rohde’s descriptions feel very close to how Italo Calvino imagines Marco Polo’s adventures.
His travelogues create a series to takes the reader through life and art, like the many facets of Balinese puppetry, including form, design, emotion, and presentation. Rohde sometimes gives hints to secrets you can find in his parks, or shows his inspirations alongside trivia. Right after Disneyland's Tower of Terror was turned into a Guardians of the Galaxy ride, he snapped a photo of a prop in the queue, letting fans know that the teeth marks were made by tigers in Animal Kingdom, the park for which he is probably most famous.
With two E-ticket rides -- a guided African Safari and Expedition Everest -- Animal Kingdom is the most enchantingly themed nonfiction park in existence. Rohde combines love of nature, adventure and “a call to action” for animal and nature conservation in the park, and worked closely with Seattle-based PJA Architects to reinvent zoo and habitat design. His influence makes Animal Kingdom much closer to an immersive safari documentary than a theme park, and he even managed to integrate Pandora: The World of Avatar -- yes, the movie -- into an artistic experience. Touring Plans explains the nuance inherent in Rohde’s theming perfectly with the statement: “Disney’s Harambe [food market in Animal Kingdom] would be a lot more at home in Kenya than the Magic Kingdom's Main Street would be in Missouri.” You know you are not actually in Africa or Asia, but only because of the Baloo and King Louie Meet and Greet.
I’d love to be a fly on the wall for a conversation between Chinese architect Ma Yansong and Rohde on the influence of landscape in their architectural design. Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii, thanks to Rohde’s touch, embraces cultural beliefs of how water acts as the connector between all of nature and community, and the Hawaiian concept that time itself flows, where the mountains represent the past and the sea is the future. You can see these ideas woven through all of Aulani’s designs, not just the resort but the surrounding Waikolohe Valley adventures as well.
His influence goes well beyond theme parks and instagram, however: Rohde’s feed is full of observations on the world, and how to view it through the lens of design and architecture. Via an image of a Balinese mask exhibit, he compels us to remember that they are not meant to be seen under museum light but “through smoke, or in near darkness. Context controls everything about how we feel about what we see, whether we are working with multiple hundreds of millions of dollars in a massively technological design, or carving a wooden mask for a torchlit ritual.”
Rohde grew up in Hawaii, and describes how he came to enjoy California beaches, so very different than the waters of his home. He attributes this newfound love to the photographer Elliot Porter, whose “photographs would often be nothing more than a strand of seaweed draped against a rock, or an abandoned feather. It taught me to look at all the things I wasn't looking for, instead of pining for the things I was looking for, which simply weren't there.”
If you delve into his works and artful philosophies, I guarantee your eyes will open to how the art and design around you influences your life.
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(Photo credit: OC Register)