Headshot of Steve Tatham

Steve Tatham is a theme park designer. As a Walt Disney Imagineer, he worked on every single Disney theme park prior to Shanghai Disneyland as either a designer or writer. He was recruited to lead the design team at Universal Studios Japan in 2014 and remained in Osaka for 4 years until he got the call to lead the creative efforts on the Epic Universe project in development for Orlando, Florida (opening 2025). As Universal’s Executive Creative Director, he is charged with overseeing all aspects of the project’s creative concepting and execution.

He is the author of two books, “1001: A Video Odyssey” and “Repuglicans,” selected by the Village Voice as one of the year’s 10 best comics and graphic novels of 2010. He performed for many years as a stand-up comedian, appearing on “A&E’s An Evening at the Improv,” and as one of the hosts and comics of “Free Speech,” an LA-area live stage show that grew into a regular radio show. He produced one of the internet’s first daily video blogs, “The Ointment,” way back in 2005. The daily news comedy broadcast ran for two and a half years and in recognition, Steve was selected by LA Weekly as one of the “People of 2008.” He has a Master of Architecture from UCLA and a Bachelor in Film Design from UC Berkeley. 

Steve Tatham

We recently caught up with Steve, a current member of the Advanced Management Development Program, after he completed our programs on Building Technology Fundamentals and AI, Machine Learning, & The Built Environment to hear his perspective on these programs and the current state of building design.

Why did you choose to take the AMDP?

I took the AMDP to learn more about the real estate development side of things. As a theme park designer, I am used to designing within land owned and controlled by the park I was working on. But we are now doing projects in a greater range of locations, including different states and a mix of retail settings. There is a whole different set of considerations when you go outside of your own land and properties – and I wanted that context.

Why did you choose to take AI, Machine Learning, & The Built Environment as one of your AMDP electives?

As a designer, I was interested because AI is the future of this business. To equip ourselves for this future we need to better understand this technology.

During your March 2023 AMDP Team Project, your team used a wide variety of AI-generated images to demonstrate your design. What has been your experience with AI before taking this program, and how has it changed since?

For the Team Project, I didn’t want to use Google Images or stock images, I wanted something that was original to the development concept we were proposing. By leveraging generative AI to create the images for our presentation, I was able to shape that process. But in retrospect, I didn’t understand how those images were being created, and think about AI differently now that I have taken the program.

I had thought that an AI class would talk about the outcomes and how to use the tools out there, like ChatGPT, to get the results you were seeking. But Jose Luis introduced us to the foundation and fundamentals of how these things work, and how you might create your own engine – what parameters and inputs would you use to get the output you might want.

Why did you choose to take Building Technology Fundamentals?

This is an area changing very quickly, and you need to be updated on the latest information to be relevant. While I’m not involved in overseeing the construction side of buildings, a concept discussed in class that I thought was fascinating was this idea of a “smart” construction site, where heavy machinery is procured and monitored by on-demand AI-powered smart drones. That has the potential to massively reduce construction costs and allow me as a designer to put more resources towards building amenities.

Providing a memorable experience is increasingly an expectation for all buildings. What insights do you have from theme park design that can be applied to, say, office building design?

Flexibility is the key. Having a customized experience within a building comes from guest-oriented principles we use in entertainment and hospitality design – things like on-demand ordering and scheduling access to amenities. These principles are now bleeding into every area of our lives, including employers grappling with ways to create a more engaging workplace, and building owners seeking to keep those same employers as tenants.