Walt Disney Imagineering Joe Rohde is senior vice president and creative executive at Glendale, Calif.-based Walt Disney Imagineering, the master planning, creative development and project management arm of The Walt Disney Co. Most recently, he and his team designed and developed Aulani, the 359-room Disney resort that opened last month in Ko Olina, Oahu, with more than 50,000 square feet of meeting space. Rohde, who began with Disney as a model designer at Epcot some 30 years ago, recently chatted with M&C about Aulani.
What makes this property different from other Disney resorts? Even though Aulani is a Disney resort, it's not about Disney -- it's about Hawaii. The resort has a Hawaiian voice, and Disney only serves as the medium to present Hawaiian stories and culture.
How did you bring the Hawaiian story to life? We spent a lot of time researching Hawaiian history and culture to make sure our portrayal was accurate. Real Hawaiian aesthetics are exceedingly refined, not the jungle-like, tiki-bob, beach-party misrepresentation. Everything from the landscaping to the carpets incorporate traditional Hawaiian design. We also have a large collection of local art on display, much of which is embedded right into Aulani's walls, windows and hallways.
What is the significance of Ko Olina? The site harkens back to the early days of the monarchy, when the kings of Oahu used the area as their private retreat. The fact that the area is still used for leisure is deeply appropriate.
What's the story behind all of your earrings? I've been collecting them for more than 20 years, during my travels to different countries. It's too bad that I can only wear nine or 10 at a time. Friends call it my National Geographic earlobe.