While the hordes of butterbeer-swilling Potter fans at Universal are marveling at the soaring details of Hogwarts Castle, Kristen Sweatland, PLA, is geeking out on the details below.
Sweatland was part of the design team that worked on Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and the pavement beneath the castle – where stamped concrete is meticulously designed to look like real, irregular cobblestone – was among the details she spent hours getting right.
“It sounds so geeky and nerdy,” she said in a recent interview, “but it’s just one of those things that brings themed entertainment design to life, which makes it feel authentic!”
In her new role as Senior Associate for national urban design firm LandDesign, she hopes to continue to work on projects like these – perhaps in a role more management- than production-based but one that’s no less exciting. It was on the Wizarding World project, she says, that her passion for this architectural genre really exploded.
“It’s a lot of hard work … working for highly creative people,” she explained. “The questions they have are usually very challenging. You’ll think, ‘I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective,’ because they know their parks and how people use them better than you do. Listening and drawing from that as a designer… that was a tremendous learning experience.”
It’s one the Toledo, Ohio-native hopes to impart to young designers on her own team, which is one of the things she looks most forward to in her new role – perhaps because she was encouraged from a very young age. As a child, her parents knew immediately that architecture, or something like it, was in her cards.
“My parents saw that my talent was in my hand and knew that at some point I was going to be drawing on some level, so they were always encouraging me to take art classes,” she says. “They knew it was what I was good at, so they focused on that.”
High school brought with it AutoCAD, engineering and drafting classes that further honed her skills.
“It was easy for me. It made sense. A lot of people consider it busy-work, but I enjoyed all of it, and this was what led me to think I wanted to be an architect.”
It’s what she later pursued at Indiana’s Ball State University, a year in choosing landscape architecture as her primary focus. Sweatland’s highest excitement levels were generally reserved for the flow of the fun spaces rather than the efficiency of the work spaces.
Recruited to an Orlando firm straight out of school, she said goodbye to the Hoosier State snow and headed for the Florida sunshine. Sweatland now considers herself a native.
She and her husband and their twin girls, now 4, enjoy the suburban splendor of their Oviedo home. They love seeing the area get more walkable and enjoy exploring the growing Oviedo on the Park community – when they aren’t working on the home itself, that is. The couple does many DIY projects in their spare time.
Sweatland’s design skills merge neatly with those of her husband, who earns his living as a school teacher but has a serious passion for woodworking.
“He is a fine craftsman, he does amazing work – and we built our whole home entertainment system.”The project took more than six months from inception to completion, with Sweatland combining their desires into one design that covered form and function.
“It’s just how we wanted it so we could have our stuff fit custom so as not see any wires,” she chuckled. “That kind of stuff drives me crazy. I need clean lines…. It’s a good partnership, though. I can do all the specs – making sure the outlets don’t get covered by wainscoting and that sort of thing. He makes it look beautiful.”
She also finds scrapbooking an enjoyable escape from the computer. She likes the return to something more hands-on creative, crafting books that curate the family’s myriad travel experiences. She’s also busy making quilts for her girls out of their former baby clothes.
Of course, work takes up the majority of her pursuits, particularly now with new-job excitement running at peak levels.
“I’ve really enjoyed meeting all the different people from different disciplines because my previous employer was multidisciplinary – everything was pretty much in-house,” she explained. “Just over the last month, I’ve been opening my eyes to all the little boutique-type places that are doing great work. In the short time I’ve been here, seeing what’s out there in terms of resources for the community to use for great design has been really fun.”
Sweatland's work with area resorts, Disney and the Potter project are among her favorites thus far, and she’s looking to add similar jobs to her resume. LandDesign, she reported, has its collective eye on similar undertakings as the city’s family-entertainment empire continues its expansion and evolution.
“The level of detail (in these types of projects) and learning how to communicate in a drawing so it can actually get built with the level of design that you’re doing is just amazing,” she said. “The idea of leading young designers on projects like these is exciting…. I look forward to seeing what people can do.”