In Orlando, architecture is the main attraction
When it comes to architecture with grand intentions for staged disaster, Orlando is the capital, where a school of spectacular disquietude has emerged alongside the region's big-three theme parks.
WonderWorks, which bills itself as central Florida's only upside-down attraction -- with diversions not limited to a bed of nails and an Outta Control Magic Show -- was designed to appear as if it had been caught in a secret weather experiment and siphoned into the air, only to land roof-first atop a citrus-packing warehouse on the tourist thoroughfare International Drive. Just north of WonderWorks, a 10,000-square-foot Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium appears to be capsizing into a sinkhole. ''It's probably the most dramatic building ever built,'' boasts K.G. Johnson, the principal owner of the franchise, who also represents luxury residential properties in the Palm Beach area (none of which simulate sinking).
The goal of these attractions is to ensnare some of the tourists already in the vicinity for Disney World, which in May will be part of ''The Happiest Celebration on Earth,'' an extravaganza celebrating the 50th anniversary of Disneyland. Bob Fleming, the designer of Ripley's, explains that prohibitive signage regulations play a part in the creative process. Or as Johnson puts it: ''We consider the building itself to be the sign. It's a super billboard.''
Terry Nichoson, the architectural consultant for WonderWorks, agrees. ''You need something dramatic,'' he says. ''Orlando is a hotbed of developers trying to outdo each other.''
Members of the WonderWorks team were originally partners in Ripley's before selling their shares to develop an independent upside-down attraction -- both teams claiming paternity of the upside-down conceit. Now the Ripley's team is developing a 15,000-square-foot Odditorium in Majorca, Spain, designed to look as if a Tibetan monastery were deposited by a storm onto the side of a mountain. Johnson calls it ''the world's second upside-down building,'' overlooking the existence of Top Secret, in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., which is an inverted replica of the White House, complete with an alien-abduction narrative to account for the orientation. Upon hearing of the Odditorium plans, Barry Frank, the managing partner at WonderWorks, laughs. ''You can't blame them for going after a good idea,'' he says. ''But there's only one WonderWorks.'' At least until there is a second, which has already been proposed for a site near Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.