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Oslo Firm Designs World’s Largest Mobile Theater

December 9, 2008

By David Sokol

The London-based Arts Alliance Productions (AAP) has been putting on “ID: Identity of the Soul” since 1994. This theatrical work, based on Henrik Ibsen’s epic poem “Terje Vigen” and Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies,” features dancers navigating around five screens displaying graphically manipulated landscapes. The set designs have been equally nimble. The show debuted in southern Norway with AAP improvising a lighthouse as a projection surface; for a staging in Japan in 2006, the group fashioned sails into screens by draping them over shipping containers in Yokohama harbor.

Mobile Performance Venue, NY
Image courtesy Various Architects
Measuring 40,900 square feet, the Mobile Performance Venue would be the largest portable theater in the world, according to its designer.
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A venue designed by Various Architects, a new Oslo-based firm, promises to be even more agile. Measuring 40,900 square feet, the Mobile Performance Venue would be the largest portable performance facility in the world, says Various principal Jim Dodson. The inflatable structure would be five times larger than the Chanel Pavilion, a traveling art gallery designed by Zaha Hadid.

Texas-born Dodson and Egyptian Ibrahim ElHayawan founded Various in January 2008, after both had logged 12 years at the well-known Oslo firm Snøhetta, designer of the Tubaloon concert pavilion (2006). The AAP project is, in fact, a gift from their alma mater: Snøhetta partner Kjetil Thorsen was awarded the commission but gave it to Dodson and ElHayawan to help launch their new venture.
 
The architects were handed a complex assignment: “large, lightweight, and quick to erect,” Dodson recalls. Fearing that a tensile structure would look like a circus tent, Various, along with engineering firm Ramboll Whitbybird, determined that a rigid inflatable structure would more elegantly meet the client’s criteria.

The 42,000-square-foot, elliptical-shaped structure features an outer shell made of inflatable PVC hexagons. Theatergoers passing through this airy threshold will find ticketing, a coatroom, and restrooms, as well as a second skin that envelops a 21,500-square-foot open-air performance space.

Inside the standing-room theater, five video screens suspend from a 36-foot-tall circular aluminum frame topped by a ring beam; attached to this beam are wire cables that project into the middle of the 230-foot-diameter space to hold a hovering tension ring in place. A PVC mesh covers the wire network, serving as a roof of sorts. In the case of bad weather, facility operators can place an inflatable cap over the oculus.

The facility can be constructed in two weeks. AAP plans to debut it in 2009, and it is currently considering launch sites in Berlin and London. Already the Mobile Performance Venue has won design accolades: In October it was selected as one of 17 gold recipients of the newly established Spark Awards, based in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, and sponsored by Hewlett-Packard and Autodesk, among others.

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