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Spaceship Earth

As the largest and most popular theme park resort in the world, Walt Disney World tends to do things on a grand scale. We've already taken a detailed look at how the resort as a whole was constructed, but we thought it would be fun to highlight 10 stunning "megastructures" that deserve special attention. It's easy to take these incredible architectural and engineering feats for granted - after all, they are designed to hide the "backstage magic" that went into creating them. But the next time you glimpse one of these beasts, spare a thought for the men and women that put them together.

10. Spaceship Earth

Image: Disney

What it is: An 18-story geodesic sphere that acts as the icon of Epcot. It also doubles as a ride building, hosting a dark ride that takes guests on a trip through time, showing them important moments in the development of communications.

Image: Disney

How it was built: Construction took some 26 months. "Quadropod" structures were used to support a series of steel beams that form Spaceship Earth's skeleton. The outer skin was then applied, consisting of some 11,324 aluminum and plastic-alloy triangles. The finished article weighs some 16 million pounds. Fun fact:Stand under Spaceship Earth when it is raining, and you won't get wet. The structure boasts a special drainage system designed to collect rainwater, funnel it through the support structure and let it eventually run off into the park's lagoon.

9. Cinderella Castle

What it is: The iconic fairytale image of the Magic Kingdom, rising to a height of 189 feet tall.

 

How it was built: The castle took 18 months to construct. The inner structure consists of a 600-ton steel-braced frame, while a 10-inch-thick reinforced concrete wall encircles it to the height of the outermost "stone" walls. Most of the exterior of the building was built using fiber-reinforced gypsum plaster, with fiberglass being used for the walls of some of the ornate towers.The towers consists of plastic attached to a cone of steel, and were lifted into place by a crane before being bolted onto the main structure. The castle uses "forced perspective" techniques to appear larger - as it gets taller, its width gets smaller.

Image: Disney

Fun fact: The luxurious Cinderella Castle Suite sits in the upper floors of the castle. Unfortunately, you can't make a reservation for the suite. You can't even join a waiting list. You have to win

your stay.

8. American Adventure theater

Image: Disney

What it is: A theater that hosts an audio-animatronic show that tells the story of the development of the United States of America. During the show, multiple different scenes are shown on the stage, in front of an enormous movie screen. How it was built: The various scenes and animatronic characters sit underneath the audience's seats. To enable them to be changed, Disney's Imagineers had to develop an innovative system that is controlled by computers. Dubbed "the War Wagon", this is a device that measures 65x35x14 feet and weighs a huge 175 tons. It slides back and forth on tracks, but is suprisingly quiet. The movie was the longest single loop of film employed by a Disney show, and was some 3,330 feet long. It required seven custom storage cabinets to be produced, with the film snaking through rollers. Fun fact: For once, Disney has employed forced perspective techniques to make the exterior of the American Adventure look smallerthan it really is. The USA Pavilion is 5 stories tall, but enormous doors and windows are used to make it appear only 3 stories tall. The façade was created using 110,000 bricks handmade from Georgia red clay - each of which was aged to look authentic.

7. Big Thunder Mountain

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (7)

Image: Sam Howzit

What it is: An enormous faux mountain resembling Monument Valley in Arizona, which hosts a thrilling mine train-style roller coaster. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad construction

Image: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

How it was built: Big Thunder Mountain required an extraordinary amount of "rockwork". The structure that supports the mountain was made using 650 tons of steel. Some 4,675 tons of concrete "mud" were used to create the rocky terrain, with 4,000 gallons of paint being employed to complete the finished look. Fun fact:The track layout of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at the Magic Kingdom is virtually a mirror image of the Disneyland original. However, the Magic Kingdom's mountain is actually 25 percent larger than Disneyland's.

6. Contemporary Hotel

Image: Disney

 

What it is: The iconic Contemporary Resort was one of Walt Disney World's original hotels, and features a unique A-Frame design. Contemporary Resort construction

Image © Disney

How it was built: The Contemporary was constructed by the United States Steel Corporation, which hoped to prove the viability of a new technique using modular rooms that were put together off-site and then slotted into place. An enormous steel superstructure was installed, and the rooms themselves were manufactured on an assembly line at a 150,000-square-foot factory on-site at Walt Disney World. They were equipped with utilities such as plumbing and even bathroom fixtures. Each completed room weighed nine tons, and was slotted into place in the frame using enormous cranes. Fun fact: "The Contemporary" was just a working title for the hotel. The final title was to be the "Tempo Bay Hotel", but Roy Disney (who took over the company after Walt Disney died in 1966) vetoed it and the Contemporary stuck.

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