Last edited 21 Jul 2017

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[edit] Architecture of concert tour designs

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[edit] Introduction

Few musical artists have left such an impressive legacy on the design of concert tours as Pink Floyd. Three of the band’s founding members met while studying architecture at Regent Street Polytechnic, making it perhaps inevitable that they would seek to push the envelope in terms of their stage designs.

A high-profile exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum – ‘Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains’ – is an exhaustive exploration of the band’s career and is packed with fascinating artefacts.

Curated and presented by the same team behind the V&A’s enormously successful ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition, die-hards and casual fans alike will thoroughly enjoy the range of props, visual imagery, and other curiosities, such as stage designer Mark Fisher’s original architectural drawings for ‘The Wall’ tour and technical plans for the circular screen that would become a staple of their live shows.

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The exhibition runs at the V&A until 1 October 2017, with more information and tickets available here.

Designing Buildings Wiki have looked back at some of the most elaborate and inventive concert tour designs…

[edit] Pink Floyd – The Wall (1980)

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Pink Floyd's landmark tour of 'The Wall' was the first major design for a rock show by the young architecture student Mark Fisher.

During the course of the show's first half, 420 cardboard bricks would be built up to create a wall measuring 31 ft high and 160 ft wide between the audience and band. The production process of building the wall involved stabilising masts to prevent it from falling over and platforms that were raised up and down by Fisher with a bank of switches.

The second half of the show comprised Gerald Scarfe's animations projected onto the wall, before at the finale of the show the wall was spectacularly brought down.

The spectacle was augmented yet further with Pink Floyd's iconic puppets, inflatable flying pig and large-scale model plane that was sent on a zip wire down from the arena roof to the stage.

[edit] David Bowie – Glass Spider (1987)

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David Bowie's 1987 Glass Spider tour was the elaborate of his career and, at the time, was described as being 'the largest touring set ever'.

Designed by Mark Ravitz, the stage was comprised of three-storey high mobile scaffolding, measuring 19.5 m (64 ft) wide. The stage set, intended to look like a giant spider, was spun out of fibreglass and metal, with giant vacuum tube legs that were illuminated from inside with colour-changing lights.

[edit] The Rolling Stones – Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle (1989-90)

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Mark Fisher designed two stages for The Rolling Stones' US and European legs of their Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle tour. The design concept was an 'apocalyptic vision' of urban decay and fluorescent jungle.

At the time, it was the largest touring stage ever built, at 236 ft wide and 82 ft high, and cost $40 million.

[edit] U2 – Zoo TV (1992-93)

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For U2's ground-breaking Zoo TV tour, creative designer Willie Williams collaborated with Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park for what would be the beginning of a long and productive collaboration.

The concept for the design was a multi-media 'sensory overload', with video-walls, 36 video monitors, and numerous television cameras built around several huge scaffold towers. To add to the spectacle, the show included several decoratively painted Trabant cars which were fitted with mirrorballs and spotlights and suspended over the centre of the stage.

The design also pioneered the use of the B-stage which extended out on a runway into the middle of the audience.

In 2002, Q magazine called it 'still the most spectacular rock tour staged by any band.'

[edit] Pink Floyd – The Division Bell (1994)

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For Pink Floyd's final tour, they utilised a massive lighting rig and Hollywood Bowl-inspired stage designed by Marc Brickman and architecturally-realised by Mark Fisher.

The arched stage measured 180 ft long and 130 ft tall, and required 700 tons of steel, transported around the world on 33 trucks.

The design included the trademark circular screen, crashing fighter plane, and enormous mirrorball which opened up into a double-ended flower; as well as a couple of inflatable pigs that disembarked from 'kennels' high above the speaker rigs on each side of the stage.

[edit] U2 – Popmart (1997-98)

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For U2's follow-up to Zoo TV, they decided to base the stage design around the largest LED video screen in the world (50 m (165 ft) wide and 17 m (56 ft) tall).

Fisher, together with Willie Williams, set about creating the LED screen on a flexible fabric sheet, however, it was later decided that the screen should hang in its own frame. The screen was comprised of 150,000 pixels, each of which contained 8 separate LEDs of different colours. 4,500 separate aluminium tubes were used to mount the pixels, which were capable of being broken down into 187 foldable panels, spread across 22 columns.

At the front-centre of the screen was a 30 m (100 ft) tall golden parabolic arch with suspended orange speaker rig.

In addition, this lavish tour design featured the tallest cocktail stick-and-stuffed-olive in the world (made out of aluminium trusses and glass fibre), as well as a 12 m-tall revolving mirrorball lemon which, at the encore of the show, would travel down the runway and open to reveal the band inside.

[edit] The Rolling Stones – Bridges to Babylon

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Designed as an eclectic collection of the seven deadly sins, Mark Fisher investigated a range of sources for the design, including the Baroque, ancient Egyptian architecture, and the futurist sculptor Bocchione.

Adopting a Pink Floyd-inspired circular central screen, the stage also drew inspiration from U2's Popmart with regard to the curved speaker rigs positioned on either side of the stage.

The stage design also included a 46 m (150 ft)-long telescoping cantilever bridge that extended out from the main stage to a B-stage in the centre of the audience.

[edit] The Rolling Stones – A Bigger Bang (2005-07)

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Mark Fisher's final stage design for The Rolling Stones drew inspiration from the sweeping expressionist balconies of 19th-century opera houses, on which audience members were able to stand and look down on the stage.

The structure itself was 85 ft-tall and 200 ft-wide, with a high-resolution LED video screen centred between the balconies.

Two lines of masts and trusses acted as support for a series of cantilever brackets. These brackets provided bearing for the sweeping balconies and lifting points for the fascia paneling.

[edit] Take That – Progress (2011)

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For Take That's reunion tour, the main stage was framed by a giant figure of 'Om' with draped arms. To carry the head, a 28 m-high central tower was required, in addition to two side towers for the hands, as well as to mount PA and video screens.

Scaffold towers curved around the back of the stage to carry the elbows of the figure, along with rear video walls and a convex supporting bridge. Central to the show was the 20 m-high robotic man who was slowly 'brought to life' using hydraulics.

[edit] Muse – Unsustainable (2013)

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Stage designer Ollie Metcalfe turned the industrial theme of Muse's tour into a stage that represented a giant industrial power station. This comprised five white scaffold 'chimney' towers, each measuring 18 m in height to support a concave back wall formed out of video panels (18 m x 14 m total).

Flanking the performance area at either side were two 14 m x 5 m LED video screens, each weighing 20 tonnes. Two large central towers were used to hang PA equipment weighing a further 12 tonnes on each side of the stage, with two single PA towers at either end of the back video wall.

[edit] Lady Gaga – Born this Way Ball (2012-13)

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Lady Gaga designed this ground-breaking stage herself - a Gothic castle five storeys in height and featuring a staircase, turrets, arches, and so on.

The castle structure weighed 30 tons and utilised innovative new assembly techniques to enable set-up in less than 6 hours. It was a custom assembly of columns, beams and nodes which successfully reduced the number of tools required for installation. The structure was scenically-pained, plywood-backed foam, and was strengthened and protected with hard coating.

[edit] U2 – 360 (2009-12)

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U2's 360 tour has been widely acknowledged as the biggest and most technologically innovative, not to mention the most expensive, concert stage of all time. Not only that, but it also featured the loudest sound system ever assembled.

Designed by Willie Williams and Mark Fisher, the inspiration came from the iconic Theme Building at LAX Airport. The concept was to enable the band to perform 'in the round' in a stadium setting.

To enable this, 'The Claw' was constructed - a 220 ton steel structure with four legs that enabled the sound system to be hung above the circular stage, together with a cylindrical, expanding and contracting concertina-style video wall. The structure, together with its central pylon, reached a height of 50 m (164 ft), making it the tallest stage ever constructed.

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