How's this for design limitations on an industrial: no backstage, no wing space, no offstage garages, no dimmer space — in fact, no support space unless you design it into your stages.

Those were just some of the obstacles imposed on DMD Group by clear!blue Productions for the DaimlerChrysler press stages at the 2003 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The design company also had to make everything work around, under, and on top of the client's brand-new exhibits for Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler, designed by the Arnell Group, and a new Mercedes stand designed by Kauffman, Thelig & Partners.

DaimlerChrysler prefers to open up its shows as theatre in-the-round rather than providing seat risers, so with such a small space available for the press event, the design solution was to create a span between the various aisles by using a unique drawbridge form. DMD designed two variations of custom risers provided by SGA. One was set in a static position with clear span underneath the riser levels, creating a “backstage” space for camera positions, dimmers, and automation control courtesy of a full Stage Command system. The upstairs featured a control room for stage manager, moving-light operator, WYSIWYG deck, and audio. The other riser design was a set of modular wagons that could be used at any of the stands or moved to create a drawbridge across the aisles.

According to DMD's Duke Durfee, the design needed to have as expanded a stage as possible. “My philosophy about designing for the automotive industry can be summed up as ‘Products designed to move should be seen moving,’” he explains. “So we needed room to drive the cars, not just reveal them. In the close-packed environment of COBO Hall, this meant getting permission from the show operators to close off the aisle whenever we needed to ‘build a road’ with our drawbridges.”

Durfee says the biggest challenge on this project was finding a design that answered all the technical needs, evoked a contemporary style, yet was changeable depending on which brand was taking the stage. “Kind of like a rotating rep for cars,” says the theatrical-trained designer. “I guess you can take the designer out of the Guthrie, but you can't take the Guthrie out of the designer.”