Greg Andrade Talks Disney Imagineering and Building Creativity Through Stories

After graduating with a Master of Science degree in Architecture in 2015, alumnus Greg Andrade wanted to bring his expansive background in entertainment design to future generations. As a part of Walt Disney Imagineering, Greg had the unique opportunity to join the creative forces behind Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Responsible for dreaming up Disney theme parks, attractions and entertainment venues, Greg was part of a global team of creatives building on the Disney legacy of storytelling. Now, Greg is teaching as a Themed Entertainment Design Professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Working to pioneer new forms of entertainment, Greg discussed his career building creative narratives and sharing them with others.

Interview with Greg Andrade

Q: Why did you choose to study architecture?

My interest in architecture grew out of my childhood experiences of building, making and painting as well as the excitement of disassembling my toys then reassembling them to understand the logic of their inner workings. When I was in elementary school I drew constantly, ideas and designs of cars, motorcycles, etc. I then developed a fascination with architecture as an art form inhabited by people and in the end, one that formed a gestalt of my interests.

Q: Your work included a ten year career as a concept architect in the Imagineering Division of the Walt Disney Company. What drove you to work at Disney, and what was the experience with Imagineering like?

First and foremost, Disney offered a fascinating world of narrative design that was ushered into being by some of the most talented people I had ever had the pleasure of working closely with. Disney Imagineering, regardless of its centroidal IP, is a powerhouse of process. There are over 200 independent job descriptions at Imagineering, which is something I had never experienced in the normative world of design outside of Disney. For these two specific reasons, and knowing that I would have access to this wealth of knowledge and process, I abandoned the confines of ‘real-world’ architecture for my time at Imagineering. Imagineering was an all-encompassing, self supporting superstudio of talent that on a daily basis provided an amazing array of design insights approached from every angle imaginable.

Big House Community Center
Q: You’re now a Themed Entertainment Design Professor at SCAD. Why did you make the transition into academia?

I am still practicing architecture and have always mentored young talent, from the staff in my office to those who were on my teams at Disney, to children at Kidspace Museum in Pasadena. So the penchant for teaching is in my bones. My degree from Woodbury immediately opened doors into academia, which I decidedly weighted heavier on the scales of my intentions for several reasons.

A. I have been in practice for over 30 years and so I felt it was time for an adjustment – a change – and instructing young designers was the next logical step. It is critical that those entering into the field know first themselves and then glean the skillsets that will bring into being our future reality.

B. The notions of story and narrative as components of design are lost to many design practitioners who would otherwise be able to create more informed, vital, meaningful and critically needed architectural endeavors. SCAD has great potential as a platform for disseminating this critical thinking and so in this latter part of my career I feel equipped to bring this into being.

C. I am an optimist – I believe it is possible to solve many of the issues of survival and for us to thrive on this planet through informed design solutions. I believe that academia has a responsibility to become a place of innovation and experimentation outside of the more constrictive reality of practice. New insights into materiality – meaning – eco-responsiveness needed to solve many challenges we face await academia as a birthplace of experimentation.

I am passionate about encouraging today’s design students, who will create our new worlds to become the best that they can be.

Q: Architects often face questions of narrowing project scopes. With changes to climate, technologies, and construction techniques, how do you think architects and designers will adapt ways of practicing to advance the profession?

There are many who are currently doing just what you mention here – adapting – we have finally created renewable timber, and as such, mass-timber structures will innovate in unseen ways – we have machines that can construct buildings via programming – we have machines that can 3-D print concrete – the future is now, not later. The most important aspect of forward thinking is to be forward thinking – every time we as architects allow wasteful use and or irresponsible eco-practices to invade our work due to a lack of chutzpah, we lose for the profession, our end users and ultimately our clients as well. The status quo is over – we can’t afford to ignore what we know to be a critical path. I think as long as we stay aware – fearless and informed as architects, we can adapt to advance the profession with innovation instead of stagnation of outmoded thinking.

Q: After founding Andrade Studios in 2001, you’ve collaborated on projects throughout the world. What projects have you enjoyed working on most?

Our studio is constantly evolving as each new project is its own new idea. The best projects are those which involve clients who are engaged fully in the process. These are the successful projects – the projects you can be proud of.

Q: How do you believe Narrative Design relates to architecture?

Narrative design is at the heart of any great design – the mistake that is made by most who speak of narrative design is that it tends to become relegated to a very narrow and pedestrian notion of ‘story’ – like – “One upon a time, there was a princess living in a tower…” or a Brand story – “Nike, Just Do It” or worse yet, themed park design. These may be part and parcel to narrative notions of design but these dictums only scratch the surface of the meaning of narrative design. When we speak of narrative we are relating a story – however – this story is one that can be nested in Brand – cultural practices – Intellectual Properties – contextual input – environmental factors and even deeply interpersonal beliefs and or passions. If you look at Gaudi’s work for example you will find a consistent series of narratives based upon his religiousness and faith as well as in a process of beliefs. These ‘stories’ are the stuff of brilliance in the hands of the faithful – those who know who they are – and understand narrative as a driver for great actions and great beauty in design innovation.

Q: What advice would you give to students who aspire to follow a similar career path?

If you are able to identify your passion = who you are = what you want out of life, then this is a moot question as those who wish to do – will do what they wish.

Don’t let the naysayers get you down.
Do what you love no matter how silly it might seem to those around you.
Be sure to remember – what you do is what you are – so – if you do it – you will be it.

Q: What three words would you use to describe Woodbury?

Enlightening
Revealing
Diverse

Greg also added a special thanks to the following Woodbury faculty and staff: Dr. Rossen Ventzislavov , Dean Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter, Mark Stanley, and Mark Ericson

 

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Photo by Nick Thomsen