Natalie Harmon
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Walt Disney Imaginations Competition


Walt Disney Imaginations Competition

Environment Design, Illustration


"Our parks, resorts, cruise ships and entertainment venues are designed to be places for families and friends to gather and create memories together. Beyond the attractions, restaurants, shows and parades, our parks and resorts include outdoor spaces that are functional yet invite guests to pause and enjoy the time in between their activities. We challenge you to apply some of our same design principles to create a new outdoor space within your college or university that addresses current students, faculty and visitors needs while providing a respite from the stresses of college life."  -project prompt

Early on in the Fall semester of 2016, I joined a team who was interested in entering the Disney Imagineering Competition. Over the course of two and a half months, we researched, brainstormed, iterated and fleshed out a concept for a rest space on our CMU campus. We named it "The Den" and designed it to be a welcoming, constant presence on campus with varying degrees of privacy. 

Spaces tell a multitude of stories. Some hold special places in our hearts; they bring back memories, emotions, dreams, and experiences–things that have shaped us into who we are. As children, many of us create our first special spaces to escape to that act as stages or safe havens around the places we grow up in. But as we grow up and leave these places, do we develop new ones? Or do we lose our childhood havens, our castles and tree houses, and all that we build around these magical sites? Though we move onto different stages in our lives, we all have an intrinsic need of a constant space in our journey of change. For many, the experience of being at a university is a major departure from the environment we have come to know. The Den is a place to rediscover the timeless wonder of our childhood havens and serves as an anchor for our guests throughout their college journey.


Semifinalist Entry, Fall 2016
Teammates: Judy Han, Jackie Kang, Adriel Luo
Role: Concept Developer/Designer, Illustrator


The Den

The main entrance is a gradual sloped tunnel, which narrows our guests’ perspective and removes the familiar sights of campus. As you emerge from the tunnel into the space, The Den comes into view bathed in natural light which reinforces the feelings of excitement upon entering a magical space.


Space Overview

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A campus-wide survey was conducted to gain an understanding of what was lacking or could be improved in terms of available spaces on campus. We discovered that among the many qualities of a resting space, noise and light were ranked to be the most important. We observed all the outdoor spaces on campus and realized that while they were numerous, they were largely ignored because they were so scattered and isolated from the rest of campus. This finding was further reinforced from our survey–many felt there was a lack of outdoor spaces. The Den is centrally located under a sloped field on campus and easily accessible from all academic buildings. We wanted to build underground because we did not want to obstruct any views of our campus. Because our university is located in an area that experiences all four seasons, an underground structure would help retain heat during the winter months and also help with noise abatement. 


The Caldera

At the center of our space sits The Caldera, a small amphitheater that is designed to be adaptable to various climate conditions and serves as a communal hub for our guests to relax in the open air. A bonfire is The Den's centerpiece, and it keeps guests warm in the winter. A single track system of sliding glass panels that are hung from the top can be used to enclose the space during the winter months. Because the system makes use of a pivoting hinge, these panels can be easily arranged and lock into place at the base. They can be stored away when not in use. This solidworks drawing was done by Judy, and it shows how the panels would round the corner as they unfold to cover the Caldera.


The Nook

The Nooks teleport our guests to a place that gives them the freedom to explore and let their minds wander. Its walls serve as panoramic screens onto which different environments can be projected–the environment is controlled with a dial in the middle of the table. Possible environments include a rainforest, a desert, a cityscape, a park bench, etc. Guests can also upload their own 360° environment maps through a website that is connected to the projection system of each nook.  


The Cave

The Cave gives guests a space to express their feelings about anything they’d like whether it’s their first or hundredth time in the space. Our guests are encouraged to reflect on their lives and to understand that all the ups and downs in our lives are part of the journey. No matter what point our guests are at in their lives, The Den is a safe space - a special haven that our guests can to return to time and time again. Guests can enter their current mood (one of the preset basic moods) in one of the screens on the side of the table, and as they log their moods, the wall fills up with lights. Along with their moods, guests can choose to include text or a picture that shows up on the screen in the middle of the table. 


The Finale

Each night after sunset, the entire space dims in preparation for the release of emotions. This spectacular is a reflection of all the people who have visited the Den and a commemoration to all the valuable experiences our guests have had during their time at the university.


Information Gathering -
Know your Audience

After getting to know one another and creating a timeline, we got brainstorming! To start, we designed a survey to gauge how people rest at CMU and relate to the campus. We also walked around the school and observed all the outdoor spaces. Here are some examples of where we looked.

We also tried to think back on our own experiences at Disney Land or Disney World. We noticed that a lot of their rest spaces shared features like shade, seating, quieter individual spaces, privacy, visually interesting scenery, lights, and some slight discomfort to make sure you don't stay too long. From these observations, we started thinking about possible areas on campus to place our space. We also started getting responses to our survey and used people's responses and our past experiences to think about our school's needs. 


Blue Sky Brainstorming & Narrowing in on Concept

Soon we began to think about what our space's function could be, what stories it would tell, and what it would look like. We had a "Blue Sky" brainstorming meeting where we held nothing back and suggested crazy ideas. Then we looked at some of the most appealing ideas, tried to flesh out what they would look like and then came back together. There were times that we hit blocks where we would expand our thinking again to other possibilities. This happened for a few weeks until we narrowed in on our concept.  

Some ideas we had were to create a space that encourages growth, distracts from stress, hearkens back to childhood, addresses the challenges that come with starting school in a new place, brings back memories of home, highlights diversity, and helps people overcome challenges. We thought of building on rooftops, creating a bridge between two unconnected buildings, and ultimately decided to create something that lived mostly underground that was hidden in plain sight. 


Developing THE Concept

We decided to focus on concepts of growth and playfulness as we moved towards our final concept. We wanted to build underground and center the space around an open air atrium. During this stage of the process, we decided what features to have in the space, and what form it would take. Here is where we started doing more sketching and visualizing to bring our concept to life.



Throughout the process, I did a lot of drawing and sketching to help us visualize what our space could look like. For the final, I took it upon myself to do the illustrations, since I had a pretty clear image in my head of how I wanted things to look. Judy led our team through the entire process and was our architectural and mechanical designer. Jackie wrote the content for and designed the slides. Adriel took care of investigating the feasibility of our technical proposals and helped with writing as well. I loved working with this team, and I'm super proud of how far we came! 

The project was conceived by the Carnegie Mellon University Team and created for the 2017 Walt Disney Imagineering’s Imaginations Design Competition. This project is the sole property of Walt Disney Imagineering and all rights to use these ideas are exclusive to Walt Disney Imagineering. The competition is a way for students and recent graduates to showcase their talents and for Walt Disney Imagineering to identify new talent.