For 37 years at Disney, Wing T. Chao played a vital role in designing and developing exceptional and inspiring projects, worth more than $12 billion, at Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide. Wing served as Vice Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts for Asia Pacific Development, as well as Executive Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering, where he oversaw master planning, architecture, and design for Disney properties around the world, including in California, Florida, Hawai‘i, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
After Wing graduated with Bachelor and Master’s degrees from UC Berkeley, he went on to receive his second Master’s degree in Architecture with a focus in Urban Design from Harvard University. His thesis, “A Free Time City,” foreshadowed society’s transformation into the Information Age, conceiving a “Vacation City” where people could not only have fun, but also undergo educational enrichment. The idea of combining education and entertainment (“edutainment”) coincided nicely with Walt Disney World’s development plans for what would become the largest “Free Time City” in the world.
Wing’s first assignment after joining Disney in 1972 was to master plan the Lake Buena Vista Community, where the initial Disney Village (now called Disney Springs) was created to entertain exiting guests from Magic Kingdom each evening. The Village was subsequently expanded to include Pleasure Island and Downtown Disney.
Beginning in 1984, Wing participated in the landmark expansion of Walt Disney World Resort, including additional theme parks, hotels, restaurants, retail, entertainment, water attractions, convention and exhibition centers, and sports and recreation venues. Additionally, Disney’s innovative design paradigm incorporated distinct architectural themes and characters for each hotel, resulting in the creation of “Entertainment Architecture.” Wing was the mastermind for planning and the design conscience for architecture, interiors, graphics, landscaping, lighting, and Cast Member costumes.
Wing was a key member in successful negotiations with the French government to build Disneyland Paris Resort. He was responsible for master land use planning and also oversaw the planning of Disney’s new community of Val d’Europe with its town center, shopping center, and office and residential development. In Florida, Wing led the design team for master planning Disney’s new town development of Celebration, which has evolved into a full-fledged model community.
Wing led the design of Disney’s first two cruise ships, Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. He also directed the design of Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy ships, which have taken guests to a new level of cruising experience and enjoyment.
In 1998, Wing was a key member in the successful negotiations with the Hong Kong government for the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, and he was responsible for the master planning of the overall resort development including two resort hotels. For the Shanghai Disney Resort, negotiations with the government started in 1999, with Wing playing a vital role in which he led the creation of a master development plan for the project’s seven square kilometers.
The list of Wing’s remarkable contributions to Disney Parks and Resorts is extensive, and his creative design impact on guest’s experiences is far-reaching. This is not only a reflection of his professional commitment, but also his passion for excellence. Wing often said that the biggest gratification in his career was to see the smiles on Guests’ faces while they were enjoying the vast array of Disney creations.