Nobody has ever seen anything quite like it: one of the most exciting, innovative elements of the U2 360° tour design is the expanding video screen based on a Hoberman sphere* and his patented “Iris Structure” as seen in the Iris Dome at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. “Mark Fisher and Willie Williams came up with the idea for an elliptical video screen, and their vision was spot-on,” says Matt Davis, a senior designer at Hoberman Associates and project director for their work on creating this groundbreaking, transformable LED screen, which was then built by Barco and its subsidiary Innovative Designs.

What was needed was an unprecedented LED screen that could change its size and shape during the performance. Chuck Hoberman, along with the tour’s director/designer Willie Williams, architect Mark Fisher, and Frederic Opsomer of Innovative Designs, a Barco company, conceptualized this fusion of architecture, stage scenery, and extreme technology.

They came up with a design for an articulated, elliptical video display, approximately the size of a tennis court that could morph into a seven-story high cone-shaped structure (nicknamed the “frietzak” (the paper cone that Belgian ‘French fries’ are served in, as the screen was built in Belgium), enveloping the band as it extends. “The scale is amazing,” says Davis. “The object was to blur the line between video screens and scenery, and develop new systems.” Opsomer proposed a screen that could change density from 100% solid to something closer to 50% transparent as the scissor mesh surface expands.

Constructed of stainless steel and aircraft aluminum, the total display surface is made of 888 LED screens of 1’x4’ hexagonal shapes, covering a total of 3,800 square feet, and comprising 500,000 pixels. The shape is a cone flattened into an ellipse to fit into the geometry of The Claw. “We knew we had to solve these issues,” says Davis, “make it move, make it grow, and what kind of mechanism to use. We started with the idea of an inverted cone attached to the legs of The Claw, but for many reasons changed course. We realized it needed to be seen from everywhere and above the band, until it starts to grow and envelops the band. The can be seen beneath it, then actually inside of it.”

The team at Hoberman worked on the size, scale, and complexity of the screen, knowing it had to be assembled in eight hours and endure 18 months of touring. “We designed a very complex mechanism and worked with the engineering firm, Buro Happold in New York to analyze the behavior of it, using a new set of custom software,” adds Davis. “The screen is an exercise in data management to create and run models dozens of times to optimize forms, shapes, and moving features, and transform it into very sophisticated structural management software. We found out that everybody needs to use the same software to speak efficiently.”

Credits for U2 Expanding Video Screen

Screen Concept: Willie Williams, Mark Fisher, Frederic Opsomer, Chuck Hoberman
Screen Design And Engineering: Innovative Design and Hoberman Associates
Screen Production: Barco, Innovative Design

*Invented by Chuck Hoberman, a Hoberman sphere (actually a polyhedron known as an icosidodecahedron) is a structure that resembles a geodesic dome, but is capable of folding down to a fraction of its normal size by the scissor-like action of its joints. Colorful plastic versions have become popular as a child's toy, which exhibit the nature of the sphere as it unfolds.