Engineering the magic of smoke and mirrors
Cirque Du Soleil
Setting the stage for Cirque du Soleil, a theatre group of creative genius that has stretched the imaginations of more than 90 million people across the globe, requires a unique sleight of hand. Our challenge was to design their 1,800 seat, purpose-built venue to allow maximum flexibility in the performance and audience space. At speed and to budget in the blistering heat of Dubai.
The new theatre will be situated in City Walk, an ‘urban living concept’ which provides dynamic, open air community spaces, upscale residences, retail stores, restaurants, cafes and entertainment venues. Phase two of City Walk is already underway; so bringing Cirque du Soleil to Dubai required Buro Happold to devise a fast moving construction programme without compromising quality.
The project challenges were numerous, the accelerated time-frame for construction being the first concern. Next, creating a drama space with maximum flexibility. Cirque du Soleil is known for thinking of extraordinary ways to capitalise on any venue space to create surprise, drama and intrigue in each performance. Therefore, lighting, acoustics and rapid smoke extraction were vital considerations, combined with audience comfort.
To discover the most efficient and rapid construction programme, our structural engineers undertook detailed studies to compare different basement and foundation designs against cost, performance and speed of construction. This informed the strategy that rather than using traditional piled foundations, our answer was to develop a raft slab, allowing us to offer the client significant savings.
To manage the smoke element of the show, our team needed to handle its rapid clearance from the auditorium – not an easy task given that the stage needed to be open plan, with no obvious location for an extraction system. To achieve it, we created a custom designed system contained within the front of stage structural walls. To our knowledge this is a first. It’s a solution that has no aesthetic impact on the design, allowing the audience to be wowed by the spectacle onstage without losing sight of any of the performance.
Our structural engineering, acoustic engineering and MEP teams collaborated closely to ensure an outstanding acoustic performance in the main auditorium. Imagine the tension of a stunning performance spoiled by the humming of the air conditioning system? This determined where the plant was located and how HVAC systems were planned and routed. Our integrated approach also defined the slab design and the acoustic separation in different parts of the building.
Our extensive experience in designing some of the world’s leading performance venues gave us a unique opportunity to add magic and mystique to the Cirque du Soleil theatre. By using an integrated approach, we were able to support the delivery of a striking theatre building that will host stunning shows for the city of Dubai, contributing to that city’s determination to be a cosmopolitan tourist icon.