Two UT teams make it to finals in national Walt Disney design contest

Trent Thompson

Two teams from The University of Texas at Austin fly out today to compete in the final round of this year’s Walt Disney’s Imagineering Imaginations Design Contest. This year, teams were required to create an immersive experience from Disney’s that explores places from a list of Natural and Ancient Wonders of the World that are remote, inhospitable or lost in history.

Disney Imaginations has been striving to nurture the next generation of creative talent through this contest since 1991. The six finalist teams will fly to Walt Disney Imagineering in California, where they will display their projects to Imagineering executives and judges and compete for cash prizes.

Kellie Nguyen, contest finalist and architecture senior, said the combination of her team’s abilities made it possible to create their project “Unearth: The Grand Canyon’s Hidden Realm.” Prospective visitors can explore the Grand Canyon in the search for a secret underground civilization inspired by the ancestral legends of the Hopi tribe. Nguyen said if it weren’t for their diverse set of skills, they wouldn’t have been able to make their project come to life.

“We had different expectations and preconceptions of the project coming in, but our differences strengthened our project because we all solve problems differently with different angles,” Nguyen said.

In order to create a more tangible experience, designers were encouraged to steer clear of using virtual reality and augmented reality. Sariya Singsanong, Disney Imaginations program administrator, said Disney wanted to challenge competitors by eliminating the possibility of using these technologies as a crutch.

“When you try to create an area that is inhospitable, the first thing that comes to mind is virtual and augmented reality,” Singsanong said. “We thought we would be putting (competitors) in a box if we allowed them to use this kind of technology, and we really wanted them to showcase their skills.”

Nicole Bariuan, architectural engineering and history senior and contest finalist, created with her team “Oasis Resort: A Disney Resort and Spa.” The exhibit intends to explore the Babylonian Hanging Gardens. Bariuan said the absence of concrete detail pertaining to the gardens posed a challenge to their team’s design.

“The origin and physical location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is a debate in and of itself,” Bariuan said. “We just tried our best to find a fertile place where we know the actual feasible ability of building a resort would be possible.”

Despite the mythical origins entangling the practicality of the project with uncertainty, Bariuan said bridging their creative minds with engineering disciplines cut through the project’s insecurity.

“We ended up incorporating a wall of waterfalls in our structure and different levels of gardens, which were reminiscent of the idea of the Hanging Gardens,” Bariuan said. “Our greatest strength is we have three engineers who love to be creative beyond numbers, an element our teammate Roxolana found a joy in cultivating.”

With an opportunity as significant as this one, Bauriun said her team is grateful they were able to break the mold of their common engineering classes.

“We will always be grateful for this project because we were allowed to be free with our imaginations,” Bariuan said. “I don’t know when we’ll come across another project like this with (a) scale as large as building a wonder of the world.”