Command Alkon Connect

Ideas and information for the Construction and Bulk Materials Industries.

Command Alkon Connect - Ideas and information for the Construction and Bulk Materials Industries.

Concrete at Disney: Not Mickey Mouse stuff

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of conducting a seminar on “Concrete QC as a Profit Center” for a group of concrete producers in Orlando, Florida. We had a nice turnout and I think everyone was pretty pleased with the presentation.

As part of my travel plans, I discovered I could save about $300 by going into Orlando a day early. I now had an extra day in Orlando, east coast home of the world’s most famous Mouse. What should I do? You guessed it; I went to Disney World, or more specifically EPCOT. For those that don’t know, EPCOT stands for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”. The words “experimental” and “prototype” always catch my attentions and, ever faithful to my readers (both of you ;>}) I decided to plan my visit with the idea of creating a blog entry on how Disney is using concrete to provide a sustainable environment for its guests. I contacted Disney to get a statement on how concrete helped enhance their sustainable development efforts. Alas, my hopes were dashed when I got a response from their Communications Department that Disney’s sustainability efforts were proprietary information and would not be released. But fear not, faithful readers, for I donned my trench coat, pulled out my trusty spy cam and proceeded to document the facts that Disney doesn’t want the public to know.

Spaceship Earth

To give you a little background (courtesy of Wikipedia), Disney World began as a swamp on the south side of Orlando. In the 1960s the Walt Disney Company wanted to build a companion park to its famous Disneyland on the east coast of the U.S. The Magic Kingdom opened in 1971. EPCOT opened in 1982. Originally EPCOT was envisioned as a permanent “World’s Fair” with exhibits sponsored by both corporate interests as well as various countries. That is why the park is divided into two sections – Future World, where the technology exhibits and attractions (rides) are located, and World Showcase, where eleven countries display their geography, history and gastronomy (food and drink) to park visitors

When I started to break down the sustainability aspects of concrete at EPCOT, I found they fall into two categories – 1) Items specifically designated as “sustainable” and 2) Park infrastructure. EPCOT features numerous displays and attractions related to sustainability. In “The Land” section of Future World there is an attraction (Disney doesn’t like the word “ride”) called “Living with the Land” which highlights Disney’s research efforts with regard to horticulture and aquaculture. During the summer this is a great place to come sit down, take a boat ride and cool off. It is also very informative and fun (especially for us old folks).

Over in the “Innoventions” section there is a display called the “VISION House”. This is where I found concrete most prominently displayed. The VISION House is a display of all the latest and greatest gadgets that can go into a home. Everything from high tech security displays to a $5,000 toilet that even plays music is displayed at the VISION House. Here amongst the domestic “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” technology, the first concrete item I saw as a concrete countertop in the kitchen. While it wasn’t mentioned by our tour guide, when asked about it she said that it was concrete containing recycled crushed glass and that these countertops were also used in the bathroom.

Countertop

At the end of the tour we were shown the “outside” of the house, which was roofed with Boral’s BoralPure® Smog Eating Concrete Roof Tile. This tile, treated with a catalyst like the white cement being touted here in the U.S. and Spain, causes nitrogen oxide to break down and reduces smog.  For more information go to http://www.boralna.com/rooftiles/smog-eating-tile.asp

Boral Roof Tile

Last on the list were what looked like some kind of concrete tile, but it could have been a block. Our tour guide didn’t know anything about them, but they looked really nice. While we in the U.S. and Canada use a lot of wood in housing construction, that isn’t an option in most of the world. Concrete is still the primary building material and the more ways we can use it, the better.

Concrete block

The second demonstration of sustainability was the park itself. . I think I first visited EPCOT sometime in the late 1980s, about 25 years ago, and manage to get back about every 5 years. Even though the attractions are sometimes updated and the flowers and fireworks are always more beautiful than the time before, the basic structure of the park remains the same. That may seem boring, but in reality it is amazing. This park was built in a swamp, has numerous lakes, lagoons and water features, is visited by over 10,000,000 people a year, but it looks the same as it did when it opened over 30 years ago! If you ask me, that is the definition of “sustainable”. I’m certain that a lot of maintenance goes on after hours, but it would be really hard to replace exposed concrete sidewalks (often colored), retaining walls and landscape features without the park becoming a patchwork of repairs. You don’t see that at EPCOT.

I was once told that Disney uses more pigmented concrete than any other owner in the U.S. (or maybe even the world). A lot of things at Disney that look like stone, or trees or other things are really made out of concrete. It can be hard to tell if something is “real” or concrete made over by the Disney “Imagineers”. Next time you go to Animal Kingdom, rap your knuckles on a couple of “trees” to find out what they are really made of. Of course, a lot of the pigmented concrete goes into sidewalks. One thing that surprised me is that much of the sitework at EPCOT is made with pigmented concrete containing granite. Granite is not native to the Orlando area, but had to be brought down from Georgia. I don’t know the original reason for using granite, but the sidewalks have held up well under foot traffic from about ½ billion people.

Disney sidewalk

If you have any doubts about concrete’s prominence at EPCOT, just check out the monorail. All the support columns in the park are made out of concrete.

That about concludes the report on my spy mission to EPCOT. Let me know if you have any other tidbits about how concrete fits into Disney’s grand scheme. I’ll be easy to spot – I’m wearing a trench coat and mouse ears!

Jay Shilstone

About Jay Shilstone

I am a concrete technologist for Command Alkon, Inc. and have been in the concrete industry for over 35 years. For 28 of those years I have been working on quality control software for the concrete industry. I am a Fellow of the American Concrete Institute and a member of multiple ACI, ASTM and NRMCA committees. I look forward to talking about concrete mix design and quality control with everyone.

  • Emily Lorenz says:

    Concrete’s durability is partly why it was chosen in Florida. Disney originally tried to use the same wood designs in Florida that it had used in California, but the extreme humidity and termites were no match for the wood designs. Only concrete would do!

    March 27, 2013 at 11:01 AM
  • Anonymous says:

    Loved your write up Jay!

    Can you recommend a website, books or other informative resource to identify the likely mix designs used at Disneyland and other theme parks?

    August 19, 2014 at 7:14 PM

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