In February 1998 an extraordinary event took place deep in Melbourne suburbia. The location was Waverley Park, a suburban football stadium now a sad relic of history. For many it will be remembered for its monochrome V shaped screen and inevitable Antarctic weather conditions. My memories of this stadium were changed forever in 1998 when U2 rolled into town.
At the time I was 14 and this would be my first rock concert. For days leading up to the event, I passed the stadium on the journey to and from high school. The curved steel structure being constructed by the cranes within the stadium became a 30 metre high bright yellow parabolic arch. This arch was visible from roads half a kilometre away, surrounding the stadium car park.
On the night of the concert the full scale of the spectacle was mind blowing. Within the local suburban stadium was the world’s largest television screen (15 metres high, 50 metres long), a martini olive on a 30 metre toothpick and a mirror ball lemon large enough to transport four musicians. This epic event became my measuring stick for subsequent concerts.
The tour was entitled Popmart, in support of the U2 album Pop. The concept behind this madness was popular consumer culture. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the visual experience I was so impressed with was the work of Architect Mark Fisher and co designer Willie Williams.
Mark Fisher graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA School) in London in 1971. In an interview with Diana Scrimgeour from TPI, Mark explains that he was drawn to entertainment and stage design because it gave him the opportunity to work with portable structures and big machines. One of his first major commissions was for Pink Floyd’s Animals tour in 1977. In 1984 he set up a practice with Jonathan Park called Fisher Park Partnership. This company split in 1994 when Mark started Stufish the Mark Fisher Studio.
In 2009 U2 began what would become the largest rock tour of all time the 360 degree tour. The story for this tour began with U2’s lead singer, Bono, being dissatisfied with the standard stage layouts that placed the stage at one end of the stadium projecting to the audience at the other. His idea was to play these venues in the round. For indoor arena venues this is common place. At outdoor venues this is never done, as there is no roof from which to hang the speakers, lights and amplifiers.
Between Bono demonstrating an idea with kitchen forks, and the design expertise of Willie Williams and Mark Fisher, the design response known as the claw was born.
The claw is a remarkable piece of Architecture. There were 3 claws made to enable the tour to flow progressively from city to city. At any time during the tour there was one claw being constructed, another being used and the third being taken down and transported. From a technical perspective the task of designing a stage must have been horrendously difficult. Each country and each state would have different safety laws and requirements, Whilst each venue had to be designed for in advance to make sure that all of the pieces of the giant Mechano kit could be assembled.
The results however speak for themselves. The giant claw takes the lighting and sound equipment out of the way of the performers. It also enables a circular LED screen to be visible to all without interfering with the audience sight lines. From the audience perspective, the back seats were just as much part of the spectacle as the front. The structure itself becomes a rock and roll sculpture embedded with lighting and video, a piece of art in itself.
For me Mark Fisher’s works are some of the best examples of temporary architecture creating a lasting impact. This architecture has been the backdrop of some of the world’s most important cultural experiences from the 2008 Olympic Games ceremonies, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert, Cirque du Soleil and concert stages for U2, The Rolling Stones and Lady Gaga.
It was with great sadness that I read of Mark Fisher’s passing this week. His architecture has been influential in my life and will be fondly remembered by the literally millions who experienced it. His architecture, although temporary, has gained permanence by being the backdrop to entertainment history.
‘Mark Fisher’s vision and genius was his ability to translate dreams into reality. With his talent and passion, he created designs which never failed to push every concept to the absolute limit. He made the impossible possible. And it always looked beautiful.’