Blue Sky

What is a Blue Sky?

The Blue Sky design phase is the first pre-concept design phase that traditionally was unique to theme park design projects. When a project is said to be in ‘Blue Sky’ that means a small group of theme park designers, working under a small design budget, are brought together to – in a formal manner – brainstorm ideas for a new project. In Blue Sky, there are typically fewer rules to guide the ideation process. Designers are encouraged to brainstorm many angles and design concepts for a particular design challenge.

  • Blue Sky is the first formal design phase of a theme park or themed entertainment project.
  • Blue Sky often is completed by a small design team with few restrictions to arrive at a project concept.
  • The Blue Sky design phase precedes the Concept Design Phase and for many projects they may never advance past the Blue Sky phase for a host of reasons: budget, constructibility, feasibility of the ideas, etc.

Understanding Blue Sky

With respect to the formulation of design projects, the Blue Sky design phase was originally unique to theme park design. Even today, most non-theme park – a.k.a. real-world commercial design projects – do not have Blue Sky design phases. The term ‘blue sky’ is used since it refers to the early project design phase where ‘the sky is the limit’. While there are certain deliverable guidelines for the end of the Blue Sky design phase, in general this early design phase is implemented to allow the creative design team to generate as many formalize ideas for a specific project or design challenge as possible.

Many of the larger theme park owners, who have internal creative design groups such as Walt Disney Imagineering, Universal Creative, etc., utilize the Blue Sky design phase for their projects. The Blue Sky design phase is often the first of the three early design phases in which final deliverables are provided at the end of the design phase for estimating, senior executive review, etc. prior to the project being fully capitalized.

Unlike other later design phases for theme park projects, the Blue Sky design phase relies more heavily on the creative team members to produce the deliverables for peer review. The Blue Sky design phase typically has a small design budget, thus the project team member count is low. Theme park architects often, but not always, are a part of the project team during the Blue Sky design phase – usually on the larger more complex projects. The roles of the theme park architects and engineers during Blue Sky are often limited.

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During the Blue Sky design phase, the limited role of the theme park architects and engineers may include more fact finding initiatives rather than producing drawings, etc. For example, if a new project is being undertaken that may be placed in an existing theme park or an existing area or portion of a theme park, the role of the theme park architects and engineers may include performing various existing asset condition and code surveys, traditional and 3D scanning surveying efforts, compiling archived existing drawings and known information about the existing assets, etc.

While the creative group is brainstorming ideas, the theme park architects and engineers are compiling as much known information about the potential, future project’s site conditions. They may be evaluating the existing condition of the future project’s site and/or building(s) that may be utilized or repurposed. All of this effort roles into a design risk management effort the theme park architects and engineers are formulating as the project evolves through the design phases. Design risk management addresses and informs the overall project budget in the event an existing theme park, existing land, or existing attraction needs repairs or modifications as it is being reimagined.

As with all theme park design phases, a specific list of deliverables are typically required by each major project group and design discipline. These deliverables will vary depending on the various groups of project team members. The final Blue Sky design phase deliverables are reviewed by the various senior leaders, the project estimators, the project schedulers, the project’s various end users and other stakeholders relevant and impacted by the project’s evolution.

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About the Author J. Daniel Jenkins, AIA, NCARB is a licensed Architect, Theme Park Design Consultant, and former Senior Project Design Manager at Walt Disney Imagineering with over twenty years of subject matter expertise and design team leadership experience. Jenkins is the creator of themeparkarchitect.com who's goal is to teach individuals about theme park architecture and design, how to become theme park architects and designers, and discuss themed entertainment industry related topics. For nearly a decade, Mr. Jenkins has worked in the themed entertainment industry on new themed entertainment attractions, theme park lands, and new theme parks. Upon leaving Walt Disney Imagineering, Jenkins started his own Design Management Consulting company where he has consulted with and provided subject matter expertise and project leadership for new, confidential projects for several themed entertainment companies. Mr. Jenkins holds a five-year Master of Architecture degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design and a Virtual Design and Construction Certificate from Stanford University.
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