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The Swan and Dolphin by Michael Graves

Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida


The Swan Hotel at Disney World

Enormous swans and shells perch on the roof of the Swan Hotel at Disney World.

Swan & Dolphin Media
The Swan and Dolphin at Disney World in Florida are not merely hotels. They are also entertainment architecture.

Designed by postmodernist architect Michael Graves, in association with Alan Lapidus and the interior design firm of Wilson & Associates, the two connected hotels have more than 2,500 rooms and suites, seventeen restaurants and lounges, five swimming pools, two health clubs, and five nearby golf courses. But these facilities are only part of what makes the Swan and Dolphin so entertaining. In keeping with the whimsical world of Disney Architecture, the structures themselves are designed to amuse, delight, and stimulate the imagination.

How did the architects make these buildings so entertaining?

1. Water Architecture
Michael Graves goes wild with water in these hotels. At the Swan, twinkling fountains in giant clam shells sit atop seven-story wings. At the Dolphin, water cascades nine stories through five seashell-shaped troughs into a 54-foot clam shell. The fountains are regulated by special wind gauges that reduce water pressure and keep guests dry on gusty days.

2. Playful Statues
Enormous statues, weighing 60,000 pounds each, perch atop each hotel. The Dolphin has two 56-foot tall fish sculptures. The Swan has a pair of 47-foot high swans. Representing classical and contemporary symbols of water, the fish and swan sculptures invest the hotels with personality and a sense of fun.

3. Mural Magic
Florida's tropical landscape is echoed in hand-painted murals on the exterior walls of the Swan and Dolphin. The Dolphin mural features banana leaf patterns. The Swan is painted with stylized waves. The murals took nearly six months to complete. Custom-painted murals and nearly 7,000 prints are on display in the guest rooms, corridors, and public spaces of both hotels. Michael Graves selected art from artists whose style influenced him, including Picasso, Matisse, Hockney and Rousseau. Graves, himself, produced more than 200 design renderings for the resort’s murals. These renderings were then commissioned to artists for completion. So when you spend the night at either hotel, chances are that your room will include a signature work by the architect.

4. Streamlined Interiors
In his original room designs, Michael Graves took a whimsical approach. Striped cabana-style doors lead to playful peach and teal colored interiors with floral-shaped lamps and beach-theme furnishings.

Fourteen years later, the hotels aspired to a more sophisticated look, so Graves launched a complete redesign of the interior spaces. Armoires were replaced with sleek, maple wood bureaus with frosted glass details. Headboards were painted with Michael Graves designs that suggest some of his streamlined postmodern architecture. Custom-designed carpeting and draperies, with a Graves-designed insignia, complement new designer wall coverings. A sleek, maple wood bureau with frosted glass accents replaces existing armoires in the guestrooms, providing ample drawer space for guest belongings.

Michael Graves is renown for his product designs, and guest rooms at the Swan and Dolphin are like mini-museums filled with signature items. From the occasional chairs to the trash basket, the draperies to the bathroom amenities, every detail works together to create a sleek, unified, and decidedly "Gravesian" look.

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