Every Future World pavilion presented similar challenges. The pavilion devoted to invention had a theater in which the seats were to move, jiggle, and tickle patrons with air jets; the machinery and the structure to support it were quite complex. The people-movers and other contraptions in the pavilions rivaled those of NASA’s astronaut-training machinery. One of them, for which visitors had to be strapped into their seats with belts across chests, laps, and legs, made them feel as though they were in hang gliders, soaring over the landscape.
Disney wrote ten-year leases for sponsoring the Future World pavilions; during that period of time, the big companies were permitted to have stores in the pavilions to promote their products.
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The second part of EPCOT, called World Showcase, was to contain eleven pavilions, grouped so as to surround a large lagoon. These pavilions were to be devoted to individual countries the U.S. Canada, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, China, Japan, Mexico, Norway, and Morocco. Each pavilion was designed to display the distinctive architectural look of its country. Inside, there were to be attractions, rides, big-screen presentations, and the like, as well as shops selling souvenirs and foods characteristic of each country.
“This place is a jungle, ” said more than one of my construction executives to me during the three years of building EPCOT. Actually, the place was not a jungle but a swamp, akin to the nearby Everglades. Florida panthers, alligators, rattlesnakes and other poisonous pests roamed the site. But the biggest problem was the ground or, I should say, the lack of solid ground.
Smack in the center of the 600 acres was a huge sinkhole. Sinkholes are geological formations that can be as old as 15 million to 25 million years. This one had been waiting for us quite a while, and its boundaries were not fixed regularly, cars and trucks that we thought had been on safe solid ground would start to sink in and would have to be rescued by a tow-truck. The sinkhole was full of organic silt and peat, and the sand underneath went down as far as 300 feet. Nothing solid could be built on it, since the underlying sand could not support the weight of a building. The most logical thing to do with the largest sinkhole of all was to dig it deeper and make it into the lagoon around which the World Showcase pavilions would be situated.
Simple idea, difficult thing to do. Under our direction, three general contractors specializing in heavy construction worked on the area. First, they had to construct a bathtub containing an area that could be filled with enough water in which to float a dredge to excavate and remove the muck. The muck was five feet thick and there was a million cubic yards of it to be removed so that the underlying sand could properly serve as the lagoon bottom. Complicating the task of removal were two huge “root islands” in the muck. Unable to get them out, we eventually poured onto them a half-million yards of sand taken from another part of the lagoon. Then, top-heavy with sand, the root islands.