'I'm Going to Disneyland' . . . to Study the Plumbing

College credit for visiting Disneyland? It may sound like a dumb jock's dream class, but instructor Nina Lesser swears it's no Mickey Mouse course.

Lesser is teaching a seminar called "Theme Parks and the Architecture of Leisure" this semester at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles.

The course explores the links between contemporary theme parks and utopian models of urban planning from earlier eras. It also sifts through cultural issues, such as how themed architecture affects people's moods, spending patterns and world view.

"Plus it's a great excuse to go to Disneyland," Lesser said.

Class field trips to the Anaheim park have produced some unusual papers from students, Lesser said, including a recent analysis of restroom plumbing and signage throughout Disneyland's themed lands. There's automatic flush in Tomorrowland, pull chains in Frontierland.

If that sounds a little pedantic, Lesser said that's precisely the point. Attention to the smallest detail is the hallmark of successful themed architecture. While high-concept architects might snicker at the thought of designing the next Matterhorn or Cinderella's Castle, Lesser argues that theme park architecture deserves some respect as a form.

There is a drawback in having students deconstruct Disneyland with an architect's critical eye.

"The magic wears off pretty quickly," Lesser said. "It kind of ruins the whole Disney experience for them."

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Marla Dickerson covers tourism for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-5670.

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