ADA Ramps Gone Wild: Disney Treehouse Villas
Remember every year in undergraduate school how it seemed that there was always one kid who gets the bright idea to create a ramping system, which serves as the major vertical circulation system in his design? And do you remember when that one kid is told during a critique that his design does not meet the requirements of the building codes? He is also told that ramp slopes cannot exceed 1:20, and that the maximum run without a 5 feet landing is 30 feet? Do you remember what happens after he stares blankly at his drawing and realizes that his design does not work? In case you forgot, he comes back the next week with a design that he claims fully satisfies the requirements of the building code. What he has not realized is that his ramp has become a monstrosity that is nearly 900 feet long. (monstrosity is a weird looking word) Unfortunately ramps like the one at Villa Savoye are not able to be built in the United States, due to ADA legislation, but sometimes that one kid from undergraduate school gets the opportunity to design a building. He then exploits the building code and uses the ADA specifications for accessible ramps to create what equates to a skateboarders wet dream.
The Disney Treehouse Villas are a fun little project which will be featured in an upcoming article on prefabrication. The buildings are also noteworthy because they were built on protected wetlands, and designed according to sustainable standards that minimize the impact of construction on the wetlands. The Disney Treehouse Villas are different than a typical resort. Instead of sharing one building with 59 other families, you are in one of 60 buildings, and all the buildings are spread throughout the forest. It is actually a lot like visiting the Ewok villages from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, at least that is how I felt while visiting. They even stole the Ewok’s color scheme. In fact, the only difference between the Ewok villages of Star Wars and the Treehouse Villas by Disney, is that the villas are on Earth, where there are building codes, and the Ewoks are unfortunately not real. Two of the units in the resort are ADA accessible, which is where that kid and his ramps come into play. Now, this is neither the longest nor ugliest ADA ramp that I have ever seen. Even though the ramp is almost as long as a football field it is contextual and appropriate, and I’ll explain why, after a photo break.
Much of the site is protected wetlands, and the resort’s site is secluded from all major development. When a guest in one of the units, you feel as if you and your family & friends are the only people in the forest. What is unique about the ADA units is that the excessively long ramp completely removes guests from ‘real world’ necessities such as the automobile, maintenance trucks, resort staff and other amenities, which detract from the experience of living in the trees. This 300 feet buffer should have been enforced on all of the units to create an illusion of a city in the trees. If I were to design the master plan for this project, I would have taken a page out of the Ewok village playbook and would have connected ALL of the units with suspended walkways. These suspended trails in the woods would allow guests to feel as if they are walking amongst the trees, experiencing nature completely removed from the ‘real world’. The 58 non-ADA units are relatively close to the drive for the unit, and one does not feel as isolated in nature as one would if staying in an ADA unit. The only unfortunate thing about these ramps is that the other 58 units don’t have them. Sometimes we do silly things like create 300 feet ramps in the woods, and realize after the project is complete that doing so was not such a bad idea afterall. You win this round kid who loves ramps but hates elevators. Next time, you won’t be so lucky.