Architen Landrell Associates created a giant inflatable disco ball for the annual Bestival Festival on the Isle of Wight.
Remember the last disco ball you had sparkling overhead as you danced to the soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever ”? First used in nightclubs and dance halls in the 1920s, the mirrored balls were typically 18 inches in diameter and illuminated the floor (and the dancers) below with scintillating rainbow flashes. Now consider a giant disco ball hung from a crane, illuminating the park below where thousands of people dance the night away. Thanks to the efforts of the creative team at Architen Landrell Associates (ALA), the world’s largest disco ball became a reality in September 2014.
Located just two hours from central London, Architen Landrell in Chepstow, South Wales, is a specialist tensile fabric and ETFE structures company with more than 30 years of experience. While much of the company’s work is in the traditional architectural and construction sphere, every year the creative team also gets involved in a number of large “Rock & Pop” projects involving complex shapes, graphics and fast delivery.
“Delivering these unique types of projects is an exciting process and one that draws on all parts of the company to ensure they are delivered successfully and on time,” says Christopher Rowell, managing director at Architen Landrell. One such project involved partnering with a client, the creative agency NEWSUBSTANCE, for the annual Bestival Festival on the Isle of Wight. The Bestival event, founded in 2004, is organized by DJ and record producer Rob da Bank, along with his wife Josie, and is an off-shoot of da Bank’s Sunday Best record label and club nights.
Challenged to build the world’s largest disco ball, disco legend Nile Rodgers asked Bestival to create a disco ball as the centerpiece to his “Desert Island Disco” set. Bestival’s Josie and Rob da Bank then brought the NEWSUBSTANCE team into the fold, who, in turn, contacted Architen Landrell to help them design, create and deliver the end product. The Architen Landrell team partnered with NEWSUBSTANCE projects director Mungo Denison and Bestival’s festival curator Rob da Bank in the process.
“We had worked with NEWSUBSTANCE before on the Dubai World Cup Opening Ceremony at the Meydan Racecourse, where we were involved with suspending an aluminum falcon under a helicopter and flying it down the final straight,” Rowell says. “So when they needed a company to help them construct a colossal inflated ball which could be suspended from a crane, they thought of us.”
It seemed like the perfect fit, since Architen Landrell has a history of involvement in wacky, challenging and generally unusual projects.
“Interspersed between traditional construction projects, we have built an inflatable purple cow, a Christmas snow globe and clouds of fabric suspended by helium balloons, as well as staging structures for the Rolling Stones, U2, Madonna and One Direction, to name just a few,” Rowell says.
For the inflatable disco ball project, the actual ball was constructed from PVC-coated polyester, chosen because its surface was both impermeable to air and also high-frequency weldable. When inflated, the black matte PVC fabric was wrapped entirely in a net made of polypropylene.
he net was required to affix the thousands of small reflective styrene mirrors to the structure. The mirrors were individually connected to the net by cable ties—transforming it into a giant disco ball.
“Both elements held up well for the four days that the ball was on display and being used.” Rowell says. “Weighing just 650 grams per square meter also offered both a lightweight yet high-strength option.”
The inflatable disco ball’s structure was physically huge when inflated, but even when deflated, the membrane was big and difficult to handle—at times requiring the whole company to help move it around the production facility.
To inflate the structure, Architen Landrell used a large industrial fan. Once inflated, a smaller battery-operated fan positioned under the headring of the structure maintained air pressure. This internal fan was connected to a sensor located in the middle of the structure, which tells the fan to start up when required.
As an air-inflated structure, the ball also required permanent connection to fans to ensure it remained rigid and spherical. However, when suspended from the crane it was impossible for the ball to have its own power supply. As a solution, Architen Landrell custom designed and built an autonomous battery-powered back-up inflation system.
Not only did the disco ball look the part on the ground, it really came to life when lifted by crane and spun around with lights reflecting off it while Nile Rodgers of Chic performed. It was suspended above the crowd from a crane for the duration of Rogers’ dance set, and then tethered to the ground for the remainder of the festival.
Because it was designed to withstand a moderate wind speed and was anchored to ensure it didn’t blow away, a considerable amount of time went into the design to ensure that the ball would remain functional and beautiful throughout the festival and for subsequent events—including Bestival 2015.
One for the books
According to Guinness World Records officials who attended the Bestival festival in September 2014, the disco ball measured 10.33 meters, breaking the previous record of the Casa Bacardi “Larger than Life Party” in Moscow 2012, which measured 9.98 meters.
Not surprisingly, the client is delighted with achieving the Guinness World Record and with the overall effect of the disco ball. The project won an Outstanding Achievement Award in the Fabric Art category in IFAI’s annual competition. Architen Landrell has been evaluating creating a number of other disco balls in the future.
“We’re always on the hunt for other unique fabrication projects and we’re lucky to have great relationships with companies like NEWSUBSTANCE that allow us to make some of the most exciting stage and show pieces in the U.K.,” Rowell says.
He adds that, even aside from the impressive final result, it was extremely exciting to see the disco ball test built in the company’s production yard.
“Suspended off a crane, we tested the air inflation system to ensure that everything worked smoothly before delivering the structure to site,” Rowell says. “As the ball was fabricated without the mirrored panels, NEWSUBSTANCE used this test build opportunity to painstakingly attach each mirror tile by hand. Sitting in view of the whole company, the team at ALA all got a real buzz seeing it come together, and were actually taken aback at just how large and impressive it really was.”
Maura Keller is a freelance writer based in Plymouth, Minn.