FORMAL MFA THESIS ABSTRACT
Theming—designing immersive, holistic environments that narrate through the seamless integration of architecture, interiors and graphics—is a prime design movement of the post-war era. With roots in the iconography of late nineteenth century World's Fairs, Tivoli Gardens of Denmark, and Fred Thompson's Luna Park at Coney Island, thematic design was perfected with the opening of Disneyland in 1955.
Frustrated by architects unable to realize his vision, Walt Disney hired Hollywood studio art directors—skilled in cinematography, set design, and storyboarding—to develop his park. The painting had replaced the drafting. In the years since, as the approach has proved popular and profitable across the globe, thematic design has come to fundamentally challenge the primacy of the architect in conceptualizing built environments.
THEMERICA™ is the first design history compendium to address theming not only as a cultural force, but as a movement with its own language. Drawing on the direct observation of retail districts, restaurants and theme parks—from Las Vegas and Southern California to Asia, Europe and the Middle East—as well as interviews with leading practitioners, I trace the lineage of theming from multiple sources, and speculate on future trajectories.
Theming has evolved from the quaint ersatz of Disney's Main Street U.S.A. to the lifestyle-centric desert daydreams of contemporary Las Vegas and burgeoning Dubai. Spanning a vector between two extremes—pure simulation and pure brand—I chart thematic environments and place them in interdisciplinary context, revealing the shared principles and design techniques that will define twenty-first century placemaking.