The University of Florida College of Design, Construction and Planning is offering a Master of Science in Architectural Studies with a concentration in Themed Environments Integration at our School of Architecture’s CityLab-Orlando starting this fall.

Steven Grant, a 28-year veteran of Walt Disney Imagineering, is joining the college as director of this new program. We sat down with Grant and asked questions to learn more about him and his vision for the program.

Can you tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in Kokomo, Indiana. I obtained my architecture degree from Ball State University. While at Ball State, during a study abroad program, I was able to study theater design in London.

In 1977, I began my architectural career in the Chicago office of Skidmore Owings and Merrill.

In 1982, I moved to New York. While in New York, I worked on many urban architecture and planning projects, including two theaters.

I ended up back in Chicago, where in 1990, I saw an ad in the Chicago Tribune for a job at Walt Disney Imagineering, a division of the Disney Company. I interviewed, was hired, and then moved my family from Chicago to California in 1991.

At Walt Disney Imagineering, I was a project architect, manager of the architecture and interior design departments, and in my last position, I was the principal design manager.

In 1994, I moved from Los Angeles to Orlando to help build the Imagineering Architecture department in Florida.

To explore my interest in the humanities I attended Rollins College, graduating in 2013 with a Master of Liberal Studies degree. I was able to merge my knowledge of architecture with my humanities studies to explore the cultural basis of our built environment.

In June 2019, I retired from Disney Imagineering to be a Professor of Practice and the Program Director of the Themed Environments Integration program at the University of Florida’s CityLab-Orlando.

What made you want to help the college launch the Themed Environments Integration program?
I could not have dreamed of a better position to use my knowledge and skills. For the last 10 years or so my focus, when not managing the architectural and engineering disciplines on WDI projects, has been studying history, philosophy, art history and theater, organizing symposiums, giving tours and lecturing. I know a lot about working within the Themed Environment Industry. I enjoy sharing what I know.

What is your vision for this program?
The MSAS/TEI program will prepare students to collaborate in the themed environment design/build industry by providing a multidisciplinary learning environment by merging traditional building design and construction disciplines with theater arts disciplines.

Design and construction of themed environments is often more complicated than the design and construction of traditional buildings because the teams include additional creative disciplines, i.e. storytellers, set designers, art directors and artists. These complex projects require extensive collaboration. We are not going to teach students how to design themed environments, but how to manage and collaborate in the design and building process of these complicated environments.

Can you describe the different types of themed environments students will work on?
Themed environments typically include retail, dining and entertainment facilities, but the students will explore other themed environments such as theater sets. I am looking forward to exploring this area of study with the students.

Because we are providing a multidisciplinary learning environment, it will be important that we mix things up so the students can see design from many perspectives. For example, architects may explore how theater sets are designed and built and set designers may explore building designs.

Although I will be guiding students through this exploration of themed environments, I will be learning as well. I have been an architect for 40 years, 28 years as an Imagineer, and I am looking forward to exploring the Themed Environment Industry from diverse perspectives.

What type of students are you looking for?
We want the classes to be made up of many different disciplines so the students can collaborate in an academic setting similar to how they will collaborate in the themed environment industry.

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