Imagineer Joe Rohde has been Instagramming some of the recent additions to Disney’s Animal Kingdom with his usual flair for story telling. Young Imagineers and storytellers should follow this master class.
Harambe Market. Every so often one comes across a visual moment that is quintessential. This is a quintessential moment. Nothing intrudes to disturb the sensation that this illusion is actually real. In fact, nature cooperates by sending a supporting cast of ibis overhead. There are so many small truths in this picture. The flattened oil drum door to the shop, BicycleLand, next door. The tangle of wire above. The potted plants in found containers. The fact that, despite appearances, there is Internet. We portray a world of economic struggle, but of optimistic determination. This is the world against which the drama of wildlife conservation plays out. If we choose to help such people it’s not because we pity them, but because we admire them.
End of day in Harambe Market. Just as the sun goes down and the lights come up, the environment is particularly convincing. I prefer the word convincing to the word authentic. unfortunately the word authentic has become compromised by all kinds of messy ideas. Does it mean an accurate copy of something else? Does it mean an original object that has no replica? Does it simply mean something that has a singles author and is created, as opposed to mass-produced? I believe the environments in Harambe are authentic in the sense that they are authored, they’re honest, and they arise out of design…not replication. But what is more to the point is that they are convincing. They help the viewer to believe. After all, this is a narrative, and fictional narrative at that. The town of Harambe only exists in our imagined Africa. Authenticity is an intellectual recognition whereas a convincing environment is an intuitive, gestalt sensation . Our job as storytellers is to make this fiction convincing so that the viewer can follow it through without being disrupted by contradictions. There are many details that are authentic that would not be convincing. A backlit plastic sign, for example. So there is considerable editorial process at work in deciding which details will cluster together to make an environment that is realistic and convincing for the particular story we choose to tell. That is why this is theatrical design and not merely kitschy replication.
A photo posted by Joe Rohde (@joerohde) on
Harambe is just one of a number of towns with strong Swahili cultural traditions. Like the Swahili language, Swahili architecture borrows from Arabic influences yet remains an indigenous product. One easily identifiable design element is the arch-within-frame motif. The rectangular frame around the arch is called an alfiz in Arabic. In Swahili architecture, all of these details, arches included are non-structural, made of stucco applied over stone or coral block walls. Swahili arches are not load-bearing arches, but sculptural openings done in imitation of arches. This is why they are often strangely flattened or irregular. In this photo, of course, the entire facade is sculpted over a very simple building.
Definitely check out his whole instagram feed, I promise you won’t be disappointed.