The Charrette Process

“Uncovering the unexplored starts with an unbridled creative freedom – that initial blue sky phase where no ideas are off the table – that’s what a successful charrette feels like.” – John Allyn, Vice President

By definition, a charrette is an intense collaborative session in which designers, stakeholders, citizens, and clients draft a vision and direction for development. This collective sense of understanding and investment amongst the group then carries through to project implementation, making the early stages more than lines on paper, but an adventure in which all participate. Here are the 10 steps for a successful charrette.


1. Pre-Charrette Team Assembly – A multi-disciplinary, cross-functional team is assembled based on experience and ability to study and resolve the planning and design issues at hand.

2. Pre-Charrette Inventory Mapping and Research – Prior to the workshop, the team reviews aerial photographs, regional conditions, topography, existing infrastructure, cultural context, as well as any environmental reports and applicable market studies. A physical analysis of the site’s existing conditions is also evaluated using GIS for slope and elevation references that serve as a working base.

3. Kick-Off – The on-site session commences with team members working directly with client groups to comprehensively assess project feasibility, generate initial concepts and define a vision for development. With all the players in place, cost and time constraints are explored and the need for the any additional allied professionals is defined.

4. Site Reconnaissance – Measurements are taken to locate unique site details, inventory of existing flora and fauna, along with establishing a familiarity with topography, adjacent land uses and an overall sense of place.  This is also an opportunity to field truth assumptions against researched data and test the information against observed conditions.

5. Analysis – Building on the foundational research, direct observation and development feasibility are synthesized into a conceptual program that identifies opportunities and constraints of the site. The combining of early expectations and quantifiable metrics allows for the evaluation of alternative design strategies.

6. Strategy – Balancing client needs, consumer preferences and market demand discussions center on project vision, design character and program elements.

7. Ideation – Design strategies that align with the client’s philosophy and  ‘fit’ the site from an environmental, social and economic perspective are proposed in this highly creative phase through a series of drawings and vignettes.

8. Presentation – This stage consists of the explanation, evolution, and evaluation of progressing  ideas and alternatives. There may be multiple presentations and reviews at key intervals during the charette process in order to keep the design process fluid.

9. Refinement – Upon review of the various design solutions, consensus for a preferred concept (or concepts) is selected for refinement and will serve as the creative basis for the design work to follow.

10. Post Charrette – Once the charrette is complete, a packaged booklet of plans, diagrams, supporting sketches, sections and elevations serve as reference for all future development phases.

The charrette process is effective not only because it marries local knowledge, concerns, and values with outside expertise, but because it provides a deeper understanding of the people for whom we design, the atmospheres they seek, and the experiences they crave.



The world has proven to be a surprisingly fast-paced, ever-shifting environment. For the first time in history, Americans are spending more money at restaurants than at grocery stores. A growing number of travelers are using private accommodation services and leaving high-end resorts in the past. Rideshare services have become mainstream modes of public transportation. And, online purchases have jumped from 22% to 80% in just six years, contributing to the mall apocalypse. With new trends morphing every day, we’ve shortlisted a few that are significantly influencing our profession, the design industry and human experience.




As governments begin to enforce safer, more sustainable land use and infrastructure, designing for climate change has rapidly moved from discretionary to imperative. At macro levels, damaged ecologies and economies are forcing a new wave of climate migration refugees. On micro levels, site specific responses are needed to address increasing temperatures and flash storm events. Among allied professionals, the fusing of science and design is necessary to combat these challenges.



As “foodie culture” continues to rise, so too do urban green markets, which have increased by 400% since the new millennium, as well as food co-ops with their 1.3 million members. These “pop-up” environments are linking city dwellers to organic farming and healthier living at unprecedented rates – opening doors for new platforms such as greenhouses and communal chicken coups.


The rise of live/work/play environments is no longer limited to urban hubs. Growth of second-tier and emerging cities affords investors and developers a greater return on their dollars and with greater profit margins in place, they can explore consumer preferences for lower-density buildings, greater land allocation to green space and more community-centric design. Designers involved in envisioning this new “hipsturbia” must find the delicate balance between metropolitan conveniences, connectivity and suburban space splendor.



High-design hotels are capitalizing on the growing co-working phenomenon by tapping into the public’s need for dynamic spaces for work, study and socialization. Increasingly set within hospitality environments, digital nomads are drawn to a new generation of meeting spaces and quality amenities, generating profitable revenue streams and nurturing freelance communities.



Self-driving cars, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and 3D printing – computers are shaping the way we live. Technology has become so pervasive in contemporary living that it is practically inescapable. Planning and design alternatives are creating a nexus for people, services, devices and experiences with consideration for high-speed communications, wireless networking, data bandwidth and built-in connectivity in the early conceptual design phase.


Time marches on for the 65 and older population and the design ramifications are numerous. As they have throughout their lifetimes, this generational group has far-reaching influence on housing alternatives, accessibility to services and public transit giving rise to residential offerings within proximity to commercial districts. Cross-generational design is providing a ‘second act’ for many retirees, strengthening the neighborhood fabric further with committed, local constituents.


Looked at individually, each trend has the potential to drive a substantial change for both people and the environment. We see a direct correlation between each component and consider them fuel for forward momentum. It is the nature of our work to not only be aware of fluctuating influences and trends, but weave them into the fabric of our firm-wide approach and methodology. For more information, contact us at [email protected].


Prioritizing People

Based on data from UN Desa, large metropolitan areas continue to perform well. Representing less than one-third of the global population, major cities produce more than 55% of all economic output worldwide. As such, trends in urban design are geared towards features that put people first – prioritizing pedestrian linkages and establishing public spaces that serve as a stage for everyday life.

Dating back to the 1920’s, avenues and boulevards served as meeting places for commerce, conversation and childhood play. But the rise of automobiles led to safety concerns, and soon, curbs, crosswalks and traffic lights were introduced creating barriers between people and place. In the decades that followed, widened streets became dominated by cars, limiting routes and resources for walking, alternative public transportation and community socialization.

Over half a century later, a surge in urban life and its associated economic developments ushered in a new era of design, returning spaces to rising pedestrian populations – a trend that continues to strengthen city centers. As proof that people thrive in areas with high connectivity, accessibility and circulation, approximately 84% of the U.S. populous currently reside in urban environments, up from 64% in 1950, according to the UN Population Division. And, city migration growth is anticipated to continue. With a projection of 89% urbanization by 2050, planners, architects and designers are collaborating to implement balanced street settings, or complete streets, which support inclusive design for people of all ages and abilities.



The framework for healthy urban communities is contingent upon initiatives like complete streets and road diets that prioritize pedestrians and connect comprehensive networks of walkways, trails, and bike paths with parks, public transportation and community amenities. By incorporating a holistic approach to roadway design, cities are reimagining their streets as destinations. From building face to building face and everything in between, the pairing of complete streets and road diets allows for the redistribution of outdoor spaces, creating a continued equilibrium between people, place and transport.

From pavers and benches to light poles and parking, the prevailing priority is to create safe, functional and beautiful outdoor environments with a cohesive palette of design features. For example, natural buffers, trees, shrubs and planters shield people from traffic, while spacing of crosswalks synchronized with light posts creates a symmetrical repetition from below and above. In addition, traffic calming measures such as curb extensions and landscape bump-outs establish visual guides to inspire a slower vehicular pace to accommodate pedestrians. Other methods include a shift in pavement patterns and color schemes to guide visitors to their arrival point, such as mass transit pullout zones.

With limited space for new infrastructure, city streets are narrowing to offer a plethora of pedestrian uses. In some cases, roundabout traffic circles are repurposed to provide playgrounds, pop-up parks and picnic tables. These people-centric thoroughfares also provide outlets for restaurant seating and bike lanes, leading to an upsurge in streets centered on greenways and sustainability features. 

In order to accommodate the growing numbers of city dwellers predicted for the coming years, one thing is true: prioritizing pedestrian circulation, alternative modes of transportation and smart landscape elements is a viable means of creating better, more livable communities that improve social engagement, public health, recreation and local economies.

Responding to the Land: Mayakoba

Responding to the Land:

The Challenge

Sitting on 1,600 acres of ecologically-valued land, the Mayakobá resort destination required innovative planning strategies that focused on a more sustainable design approach as compared to much of what was being developed along the Cancun shoreline. In order to create a successful tourism destination that complied with the Mexican Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources 270 environmental requirements, the basic structure and functions of the fragile ecosystems were maintained through conservation and the integration of performance-based design efforts. Under this development model, preservation of environmental quality would in turn provide ecological and financial certainty to investors as well as social and economic benefits for the local population. The master plan created five hotel sites, a championship golf course and a system of freshwater lagoons and canals, along with the reforestation of mangroves and conservation of indigenous flora and fauna.

Impacts at a glance

  •  The unrivaled, culturally-sensitive Mayakobá changed the perception of hospitality along the Riviera Maya. The historically-influenced design repositioned tourism in Mexico as ecologically responsible.
  •  A multidisciplinary team of 80 specialists consisting of environmentalist, planners, architects, biologist, engineers, market analysts and golf course designers collaborated on the planning and design of Mayakobá establishing it as a new tourist development model that organically celebrates Mayan culture.
  •  In designing the resort community, an estimated $5 million was invested in research and studies to ensure the final design environmentally, technically, socially and culturally imbued authenticity.
  •  Before construction, 49 species of amphibians, birds, mammals, fish and reptiles were recorded. Currently this figure is up to 285 species. Additionally, over a 10-year period, the fauna population increased by 560%.
  •  During the initial 8-year construction span, some 228,000 plants from 40 families and 108 species were saved, documented, temporarily stored and then revegetated. Significant reforestation of landscape areas has occurred inclusive of nearly 3 million native plants that were propagated and grown right on property. The resort nursery now has about 306,000 indigenous plants to beautify Mayakobá’s unique landscape.
  •  The backbone of the environmental plan expands the natural pattern cenotes to create a connected system of canals and lagoons that improves the structure and quality of the mangrove forest and creates a high quality environmental experience for guests. The replicated ‘village of water’ is 13 kilometers in length with an average depth of 1.5 meters.
  •  In 2011 Mayakobá won the prestigious Ulysses Award from the United Nations World Tourism Organization under the Innovation in Enterprises section and garnered the award for Sustainable and Responsible Tourism Development. The resort destination has also been recognized by the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources and the Rainforest Alliance as a benchmark environmental model for tourism in Mexico.


Unique Solutions

 EDSA, along with a team of specialists, crafted a complex ecotourism model where natural and man-made systems intertwine to complement and enhance each another. The tourism development is based upon land conservation and integration of the natural resources.

 Influenced by historic Mayans inhabitants that typically settled inland, the master plan locates infrastructure behind the coastal mangrove forest maintaining stability of biological corridors. Hotels are located in previously disturbed areas while small pockets of low impact bungalows and amenities were placed behind coastal dunes as waterfront destinations.

 Distinguished hotels are linked by a unique aquatic ecosystem for transporting guests that also offers new habitats for wildlife and relief for coastal environments. This estuarine system is naturally functioning and improves water quality.

 Utilizing special planting techniques within and among the micro-channels allowed for mangrove restoration. The more than 148 acres of mangrove forests along the coastline now provide an important refuge for nesting birds as well as shelter for hatcheries of young fish and turtles.

 The resort’s golf course is built with an impermeable sub-base of sascab which is a local material that is highly compactable. This allows direct control of both stormwater and irrigation runoff which is treated re-use water from the Waste Water Treatment Plant. Together, the constructed water channel system and assimilation of nutrients from the golf course drainage has resulted in improved mangrove structure and productivity.

 A variety of measures were implemented to ensure continued sustainability including energy saving practices, local community engagement and administration of strong and well-documented sustainability policies and procedures.

 Focused on the guest experience, each resort employs its own biologist with whom guests can explore, learn and connect with nature.

For nearly 20 years, Mayakobá has recorded net gains in every measurable category. While the development continues to evolve, the critical component to its ongoing success remains the management and monitoring of its biodiverse ecosystems and the increased environmental services they provide

Where form meets function

Art has played an important role in the public realm for centuries. In ancient Rome, statues of gods, goddesses, and emperors were prolific. In eastern cultures, deities were worshipped with sculptures, and sacred spaces were marked with shrine gates called torii. In modern times, public art has expanded to include cultural ideas beyond religion or government. Arguably, the most novel form of 20th century public art, Land Art is exemplified by the monumental earthworks, such as Spiral Jetty created in Utah by Robert Smithson, and the encirclement of eleven Florida islands in pink fabric by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. However, most often, the aim is to enhance public engagement, improve property value, stimulate the local economy through increased traffic to local businesses, and provide social connection or shared community understanding.

One of the more recent trends in public art is to create pieces that are as functional as they are visually stimulating. In form, these works are appreciated for their beauty and ability to add intrigue to the outdoor environment. Bridging the gap between fine art and the everyday, functional public art refers to well-designed objects that make life easier, better, and more productive with an appealing aesthetic that cleverly suggests “I’m art!” Functional public art may take the form of an understated sculpture that is meant to be used as a bench, or it may be a gracefully stepped garden that also works as a public amphitheater.

The key to creating a functional public art experience is the infusion of stylistic differentiators into things that might not otherwise ever be viewed as art – thereby encouraging stay-value because of its overarching purpose and place holder within the overall design. Street lights become more than simple bulbs on the end of poles. Pedestrian pathways and crosswalks become colorful mosaics and charming streetscapes. And, playgrounds and parks take on meaning for residents and neighbors. In this way, the appearance and meaning of hardscape, landscape, water features and other design detailing are not separate from function, but central to it.

As designers, our challenge to create functional art is an exciting one. It allows for purposeful creativity and a real chance to shape the experiences of those who visit, use, or occupy a space. In doing so, the design and character of public areas is intrinsically made more enduring. A retaining wall with artistic value is less likely to be defaced with graffiti, just as ponds with fountains are less likely to be filled for no reason.

With the face of functional public art continuing to evolve, it will be interesting to see how people and artists utilize varying platforms and mediums including nature, man-made materials, technology, wayfinding, and even transportation as utilitarian pieces that also make a statement about a time, people, or destination.

A cornerstone of EDSA’s approach is the understanding that design is not a finite set of tasks but a dynamic process of discovery, where each step forms the basis for the next. So, while every project site and development program are unique, the principles and strategies of our approach remain constant.

Here’s an overview of our process that leads to viable program alternatives and development strategies for projects that are both creative and economically sound.


At the onset of an assignment, EDSA along with our client, team members and constituents collaborate to outline project objectives and assess project feasibility. This step leads to a greater understanding of the physical site and market opportunities. It helps identify zones for preservation, program elements and land-use strategies based on context that aligns with an overall project vision.


Nurturing social, economic and environmental success, the master plan makes sensitive use of topography, landform, natural resources, vegetation, infrastructure and buildings for implementation of a successful and sustainable projects. Detailing of development areas, preferred land uses, circulation, open space networks, focal points, infrastructure, roadways and transit initiatives are refined to enhance the site’s attributes, attract investment and strengthen connections between existing uses, people and place.


The overall theme, intent and character of a place is crafted by the physical design and specific layout of amenities, features and infrastructure. Sketches, sections and elevations are combined with engineering and economic models to illustrate critical relationships and provide a cohesive design package. As efforts progress from conceptual to detailed design, the color, textures, finishes and massing of hardscape and landscape forms are brought to life.


The process culminates with a coordinated package that illustrates all the design components, construction details and specifications. Construction documents and observation services are oriented toward reviewing the progress and ensuring the design and aesthetics of site work are consistent with the originally set project vision, intent, goals and objectives.

10 Ways to help your community in 30 minutes or less

By doing our part to contribute to the community, we add people to our circle of influence and gain opportunities to build relationships with our neighbors. We also demonstrate what it means to be a good citizen to our children. In support of World Humanitarian Day here are 10 ways to give back to your community: 


1. Take a garbage bag while walking through the neighborhood. Pick up any litter along the way. As a by-product, you can get some exercise built into your day.


2. Shop with locally owned businesses, saving time and money. Many locally owned businesses offer services like free gift-wrapping and delivery. And a percentage of your sales taxes go directly to the local community.


3. Find positive aspects of your community share with other people. A positive image encourages residents to shop locally, increases the chance new businesses will open in the area and promotes growth.


4. Attend a local festival or other event. Many have free admission and activities. Most festivals are actually fundraisers for nonprofit organizations who make their money through sponsorships. Since sponsors look at attendance numbers to decide how much to give, your family can add to the number and help increase what businesses give next year.


5. Write a letter to local elected officials encouraging them for making good decisions for the community. People work harder when they know they are appreciated. And elected officials seldom hear enough encouraging words.


6. Put a potted plant on your front porch. When your home looks spruced up, it makes the whole neighborhood and the community to look better as well. Just remember to water it.


7. Take left over dinner to an elderly neighbor. If you have a family of four, cook enough dinner for five one night and deliver a plate to the widow next door. Your delivery helps you to get to know your neighbors better. And police promote knowing your neighbors as the best way to fight neighborhood crime.


8. Look for opportunities to give in your community. Many schools collect items, such as like canned foods, old coats, toys and eyeglasses, for less fortunate families.


9. Elections happen every year. Check out the candidates for local elections.


10. Encourage your employer to sponsor local events, join a civic organization or allow employees to volunteer during work hours. Many businesses have volunteer programs to reward employees for volunteering. Local news media often cover large volunteer events and having employee representation gives businesses extra publicity.



Fun In the Sun

With summer in full swing, attractions that help beat the heat are in high demand. According to researchers at Statista, a record-breaking number of visitors flocked to water parks in 2018 and 2019 is projected to be even “hotter”. But what keeps a steady flow of guests coming?

The most popular parks offer something for everyone – families, adults, tweens and teens, mild and wild – all in the same place. Framing the visitor experience from the moment they enter a park, to their late-night Instagram-worthy posts, good design encourages interactivity across all customer touchpoints and directs guests where they need to go. Part of a creative toolkit, EDSA designers use story telling techniques to connect people to a cohesive experience in dynamic ways with sound, lighting and other subtle elements bringing guest immersion to independent and resort-based water parks alike.

Developing multiple levels of engagement means thinking broadly about the arc of visitors’ emotions and what people need, want and expect during their visits. EDSA begins each assignment by evaluating a series of offerings in conjunction with guest profiles and preferences. Analytic studies further refine what a guest can do in one hour and over the course of a day giving credence to a ride menu and complimentary supporting areas that are planned across the site. Balancing ‘showcase’ rides with splash zones, wave pools, aqua obstacle courses and other active and passive activities ensures something age appropriate for everyone. Additionally, having a comprehensive area development plan from the onset elevates performance of must-see parks and can mean the difference between a return visit, good word-of mouth and a not-so positive trip advisor review.

One of the great advantages of water park rides is that they can serve a number of guests relatively quickly. The latest generation is taking high capacity further with bowls, funnels and serpentine slides that merge in various sections. Also serving more riders simultaneously are family slides and speed-splash water coasters that offer a unique brand position. The key is to create a seamless crowd flow by offering multiple traffic routes and ride sequences to ensure ‘jams’ don’t happen. In addition to traditional pathways, successful water parks use tube elevators, conveyor belts and lazy rivers – not only as an attraction, but a means to move people through the park.

Like any themed attraction, the rides or in this case slides, are only part of the overall guest experience. Strategically placed diversions such as a surf-rider pool, characters and entertainers that attract both spectators and participants, create opportunities to ‘feed’ guests towards second-tier attractions as well as to concessions, shops and other revenue-producing spots. Also recommended is upgrading standard experiences with VIP cabanas, members only quite pools and associated pool-side butler service for a premium.

Understanding the needs for variable programmed spaces is a design consideration often overlooked. Knowing what areas can double as teaching spaces, training areas and recreational swim buy-outs/rentals is an acquired skill. For example, lazy rivers can be used for resistance or assistive walking classes during certain times and as a recreational river on other days. Wave pools are popular after-hours, rent-outs for surf enthusiasts. Warm-water wellness pools provide a place for therapy and rehabilitation, but also present appropriate depth and temperature for learn-to-swim lessons.

Planning for and beyond summer fun is what ultimately contributes to the long-term financial stability of a water park. In turn, that success provides necessary funds to add, improve or replace attractions to stay current with guests’ desires and make the next big splash in a competitive market. For more information contact us at [email protected].



Making a Splash!

Tidal Cove

Adding to an exciting amenity package at the JW Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, Tidal Cove brings the latest and greatest in waterpark design. The resort-based attraction features the first-ever FlowRider® Triple, seven slides ranging from a 558-foot drop to 286 feet, a meandering lazy river, multiple pool environments and the Kids Cove. High-intensity, immersive aquatic features are balanced by unique opportunities for more sophisticated and privatized relaxation with the incorporation of cabanas along the winding river and a secluded VIP adult pool. EDSA provided full design services for the renovation and expansion including associated F&B, retail and area programing that relies on hardscape, landscape and site furnishing to create zones of varied energy for resort guests and day visitors.



Stake Bank Island

As consumer demand for cruising outpaces supply, investment in land-based private islands that extend the onboard experience are also on the rise. These exclusive destinations often draw upon the culture and history of a place as is the case with Stake Bank Island, a new destination island underway near Belize City. EDSA is responsible for blue sky visioning, story development, programming and detailed design of the upland which includes highly themed pools, beach related amenities, a watersports zone with iconic water slide and beach club as well as tranquil seaside cabanas and over-water bungalows. With the official groundbreaking earlier this year, completion is targeted for 2021.




EDSA’s long-term relationship with the Atlantis brand resulted in design collaborations for Aquaventure Waterparks in Paradise Island, Dubai and Sanya. Integrating themed entertainment and water amenities, EDSA addressed revenue generation, technology and a narrative of a place that uses architecture, landscape and both extreme adventure and family-friendly elements to enhance the guest’s experience. Creating a WOW factor gave rise to the transportainment concept and extensive river network that moves guests in and around the entire waterpark. The nature-based designs address guest comfort and climatic needs while influencing how imaginatively absorbed a person feels in the space. Given the scale and complexity of the design, EDSA collaborated with a team of consultants including architects, marine scientists, engineers, manufacturers, interior designers, audio and visual experts, art directors and an entire construction team that helped bring the waterparks to life.

Doing More. Taking Less.

Enriching spaces through multi-functional design

When Ian McHarg published Design with Nature in 1969, he set in motion a concept for space planning that has steadily evolved into a guiding principle of modern development. The idea of doing more while taking less was novel 50 years ago, but today is essential. EDSA founder Edward Stone, Jr. went a bit further imparting his viewpoint that environmental and social functionality was not an either-or consideration, but a standard to uphold.

In the decades that have followed, landscape architects and land planners have worked to enrich spaces with multiple benefits and uses while also preserving as much of the existing ecology as possible. Commercial, residential, hospitality and entertainment offerings demand the value that only integrative design can deliver. If a space is to provide jobs to a community, is it not worth more to everyone if it also reduces the impact on local resources like water? If a school is to teach our children about the world, aren’t gardens growing living plants and food a powerful introduction about the way nature works? Designing spaces for multi-purposes and multiple functions not only supports return on investment, it enhances the relationship between people and a place.

With a universal outlook on how spaces evolve, multi-functional design not only incorporates the beneficial performance of ecosystems, it provides for innovative solutions that improve functionality and appeal with a composition that adds to what one can experiences in a place. To that end, EDSA designers are passionate in their beliefs – advocating for adaptability, flexibility and accessibility in the essential relationship between a site, its purpose and user.

It is important to realize, however, that multi-functional environments are not the same as mixed-use development. For a space to realize its full potential, it should align with natural systems and welcome diverse activities that can take place independently or side by side. A downtown plaza, for example, might host a farmer’s market on weekends as well as a children’s theatre program with an outdoor stage. It could serve as concert stage for an intimate ensembles or as outdoor café seating for food trucks or restaurants. It may even be used for a public meeting while also acting as a bike-share hub. Fundamental changes or modifications to the space are not needed for each distinct activity, as the site itself has been designed to deliver integral amenities that are useful to everyone. Adequate shade, evening lighting, appropriately paved spaces and hardscape, seating and access to services enhance and support the diversification of activities and expand the use of a space beyond a single function.

In designing for multi-function, outdoor green spaces become much more than parks. Communities are revitalized by diverse populations coming together, sharing experiences and ideas – providing opportunities for collaboration and partnership that may drive further innovation in public and private sectors. People are once again connected to the land in meaningful ways that invites social, economic and environmental growth. The results are inspiring and are becoming more common around the world – a progressive step along a path we should all take.


New Sites/New Projects

With an extreme variation in land typologies, geologies and cultures, we continue to have the good fortune of working on amazing projects. From Miami to Mexico, to the Middle East and beyond, we have left an indelible mark on the global mindset of how people live, work, learn, play and interact with their environments… and we are committed to continue shaping that view for current and future generations.

ESCAPE TO FANTASY: Destination Design

Amusement parks have come a long way since Coney Island’s Switchback Railway roller coaster ushered in the ‘gravity pleasure ride’ in 1884. Formula Rossa at Ferrari World in the United Arab Emirates is now the world’s fastest coaster, accelerating to 149 mph in just 4.5 seconds and the Yukon Stricker will be the tallest and longest dive coaster when it debuts at Canada’s Wonderland this spring. In an industry that rises and falls on offering the newest rides, experiences and services to its guests, continual reinvestment is necessary to keep crowds returning year after year and that means an evolution of exciting experiences. 

As such, themed environments are trending beyond a set of rides or exhibits in a single location. Successful parks are targeting an ever-widening demographic by increasing the number of options for guests of all ages with more live entertainment, animal shows, family rides and interactive experiences, along with lodging, shopping, dining and nightlife offerings. To create memorable vacations, themed destinations must transform their attractions from passive amusements into full-on participatory and immersive adventures. And that means managing attrition, introducing new programs and heightening a guests’ immersion in the story of a place.

Helping clients stay at the forefront of this design innovation, EDSA has announced a ground-breaking enhancement in its creative services with a new Themed Entertainment Studio focused on blue sky visioning, operational programming and area development. The Orlando, Florida based specialized team offers a more robust and in-depth expertise in guest-driven, experiential design for themed entertainment environments.

One of the primary reasons for EDSA’s expansion, both today and in the future, is creativity. With a holistic narrative and immersive story of place, the firm now brings to life the entire spectrum of thematic design across all consumer touchpoints for a total 4D experience. Skilled at guest profile analysis, programming and capacity validation, ride/mix creation, IP analysis and integration as well as character creation and ride/show development, this team recognizes the potential for innovation in how people interface with themed environments and contributes layers of dialog, movement and texture to story development and guest engagement.

EDSA’s new Entertainment Studio is working on an exciting array of projects including marine parks, theme parks, athletic venues, port destination islands, waterparks and zoos. Jeff Sugar, formerly Director of Planning with ITEC Entertainment is leading the team. Having yielded optimal outcomes for many clients, he safeguards the creative integrity of a project by focusing on the myriad of details that transform themed ideation into compelling storylines. Joining Jeff in this endeavor are EDSA veterans John Allyn, Danny Bulemore and Lianying Wang. A multi-faceted designer, John brings characters, forms and landscapes to life by unifying imagination, design and technology into enriching experiences. Danny begins every project assignment by deciphering the not-so-obvious of what makes a place feel right and integrates a blended design for sensory engaging outcomes. Likewise, Lianying believes a designer’s influence on the dynamics between space and people are the result of the right combination of detailing orchestrated in a meaningful way. Balancing the core team is Craig Verniel whose technical knowledge and construction documentation provides for the appropriate application and logical use of materials for highly resolved built outcomes.

The new discipline will put creativity to work on an exciting array of projects including aquariums and marine parks, theme parks, sports and athletic venues, port destination islands, waterparks and zoos. According to Doug Smith, EDSA President, “While our clients continue to value our firm’s talents in the hospitality, attractions and entertainment marketplace, the progression in turning themed ideation into implementable designs achieves our expansion desires to be a leader in amplifying the guest experiences. Our team brings heightened imagination, real-life experiences and commitment to building lasting relationships with client organizations in designing compelling works that truly make a difference.”



There is an enduring curiosity about creative ideation – the Eureka! moment, the stroke of genius, the proverbial light bulb and how ideas take shape. In the early stages of concept development, EDSA designers explore numerous imaginative ideas through brainstorming, sketching and artistic collaboration in order to generate a strong thematic narrative and storyline which becomes the creative bedrock for the next stages of design.

Guiding Principles – Themed Entertainment

On every project, we prioritize the relationship between and among attractions and their guests. Our philosophy for project success is based on a few guiding principles that artistically and functionally consider the who, what, when, where, how and most importantly the why behind every design decision and its influence on creating an immersive narrative environment.


Develop a seamless and inviting experience for visitors. Establish a welcoming sense of arrival with a coherent design vernacular between drive corridors, arrival portals, parking courts and entry nodes. Ensure a logical and engaging sequence in the narrative and the way guests experience them.


Create synergies between uses, people and place. Add vitality to spaces with character, textural patterns, landmarks, and focal points. Establish ‘visual targets’ as a means to clearly and sensibly leads guests through and around a park. Within the property, craft state-of-the-art amenities that cater to visitors of all ages and abilities for complete guest immersion.


Capitalize on a site’s natural characteristics and eliminate or improve on any negative factors. Focus on site sensitivity by leveraging the best it has to offer to define a unique destination. Plan for climatic conditions and guest comfort.


Create immersive experiences with view sheds and a pedestrian sequence that requires people to pause to absorb environmental sights, smells and sounds. In aesthetic matters, foster unity and variety within a cohesive design palette that turns basic elements such as lighting, fire, and water into creative art forms and places for social gathering.


Design supporting themed lodging, dining and retail offerings that enhance the entertainment destination, invite commerce, lead to job creation and increase visitor interest and return.


Encourage guest exploration by fashioning a seamless integration of spaces to support visual, communal and environmental connectivity. Establish an intuitive pedestrian framework that permits people to orient themselves to physical surroundings. Promote walkability with elements and organized spaces that create interest and a guided wayfinding system.


Respond to guests concerns for sustainability and strive for net-zero impact with value propositions like LED lighting, green roofs, on-site food production and new systems in waste management and energy conservation.