Performance Engineering

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Tali Krakowsky, WET Design.
Tali Krakowsky, WET Design.
For lovers of moving things--and great music--the new U2 360 concert offers an exciting manifestation of some LED dreams.

The story begins with a collaboration between a technology company, an engineering firm, a designer and a fabulously inspired band.

The artist, designer and mechanical engineer Chuck Hoberman worked with one of the world's leading LED manufacturers, Barco, and engineering consultancy Buro Happold to create an architecturally-scaled kinetic media chandelier.

For the U2 concert, show director Willie Williams envisioned a giant skeleton hung above the stage that would be capable of performing both as an overwhelming, heroic element and as an ethereal, translucent skin.

Credit: Mark Fisher
Credit: Barco
The "claw"--a massive four-legged super structure--became the infrastructure for Frederic and Chuck's vision.
Credit: Mark Fisher
The conceptualization phase, Chuck tells me, was short. With the "claw" in mind, Hoberman sketched different transformable skins and surfaces that could be hung from the structure. The result was an inverted pyramid that was then transformed into an artful ellipse by Mark Fisher, production designer and architect for the U2 show.

Credit: Mark Fisher
Based on his signature geometry, Chuck finally converted the form into an iris shape and proposed different patterns for how the video skin could be mapped onto the tennis-court-scaled structure.

Credit: Barco

Weighing 120,000 pounds and moving at 1.6 feet per second, the structure is 80 by 54 feet when fully expanded--creating a 360-degree video screen area that is 1246 square feet.

This was Hoberman's first time playing with LEDs and with a live rock tour.

The merging of digital media with a physically transformative structure was not that much of a conceptual leap for Chuck but the challenge lay in the implementation. With literally millions of electrical connections, the shear density of technology took a great deal of detailed engineering of extremely involved structure. In addition, this time he had to engineer fast rapid set-up and take-down for this super structure.

This rich and complex artifact provides a glimpse into our future. It is only appropriate that inspiration for what architecture could do when it is not limited by our imagination will come from the world of performance.

Credit: Barco
Another lesson for architecture (and us) from pop-culture.

And check out the making of U2 360 Tour videohere. If you want to read more about the future, visit this site.


Tali Krakowsky, Director of Experience Design, heads a think tank at WET. Working closely with design, research and production, she focuses on developing new ideas, technologies and business opportunities for the short- and long-term future of the firm.
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