Launch Slideshow

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Tale of the Swan and Dolphin

Tale of the Swan and Dolphin

  • The Swan and Dolphin hotels at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., designed by Michael Graves & Associates with Alan Lapidus, Architect.

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    The Swan and Dolphin hotels at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., designed by Michael Graves & Associates with Alan Lapidus, Architect.

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    © Disney

    The Swan and Dolphin hotels at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., designed by Michael Graves & Associates with Alan Lapidus, Architect.

  • The Swan Hotel.

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    The Swan Hotel.

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    Steven Brooke

    The Swan Hotel.

  • Swan Hotel interior.

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    Swan Hotel interior.

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    Steven Brooke

    Swan Hotel interior.

  • Model photo.

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    Model photo.

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    Courtesy of Michael Graves & Associates

    Model photo.

  • Detail of the iconic dolphin and swan statues on top of the hotels.

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    Detail of the iconic dolphin and swan statues on top of the hotels.

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    Courtesy of Michael Graves & Associates

    Detail of the iconic dolphin and swan statues on top of the hotels.

  • The Dolphin hotel.

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    The Dolphin hotel.

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    Steven Brooke

    The Dolphin hotel.

  • Dolphin Hotel, main facade elevation.

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    Dolphin Hotel, main facade elevation.

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    Courtesy of Michael Graves & Associates

    Dolphin Hotel, main façade elevation.

  • The Swan and Dolphin Hotels at night.

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    The Swan and Dolphin Hotels at night.

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    Courtesy of Michael Graves & Associates

    The Swan and Dolphin Hotels at night.

There was some serious calculation behind the two adjoining hotels designed for Disney World in Orlando, Fla., by Michael Graves & Associates (with Alan Lapidus, Architect, successor to legendary hotel designer Morris Lapidus). To diversify its extensive hospitality facilities beyond family-centered environments, the client commissioned two adult-oriented convention hotels: the Dolphin, with 1,510 guest rooms, and the Swan, with 760—both including extensive entertainment facilities. There had to be serious calculation, since the two structures total about 2 million square feet.

While most of the Disney World hotels simulate actual places either past, far off, or both, these two played on a kind of Pop imagery: forms of toylike geometry and colors, capped by the super-scaled rooftop creatures that lent the hotels their names. These fraternal twins are situated on either side of an artificial lagoon, linked by an axial causeway. Convention wings for each are on their far sides, bordering their respective parking lots.

The P/A jury carefully hedged its approval of the project. “It’s fantasy architecture, and it belongs in Disney World. That’s where it is—which makes it acceptable,” said juror Adrian Smith, FAIA. Writing in the October 1990 issue of Progressive Architecture, after the hotels were completed, architectural historian Vincent Scully observed that “one would have to be a mean old curmudgeon indeed to be less than delighted … at least for a while.” But he went on to deliver a judgment that seems less than positive: “The Swan and Dolphin are cosmic cartoons in toto, their shapes abnormally few, obvious, and vast.”

1989 P/A Awards Jury
Anthony Ames, FAIA
Alexander Cooper, FAIA
Terry Farrell
Donn Logan, FAIA
Don Prowler, AIA
Adrian D. Smith, FAIA
Bernard Tschumi, FAIA
Polly Welch, AIA