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Jul 2016 | Opera

For Pélleas et Mélisande by Debussy, directed by Katie Mitchell and designed by Lizzie Clachan for the Festival d’Aix and the Opera Narodowa, a 9.5 meters high rolling spiral staircase connects to other elements on different levels, but it is only one part of the challenge. Such a massive element has a life-cycle scope quite demanding, hence engineering is required on many aspects.

As the set is meant to travel the world in containers, we were asked to design an element that breaks down in the most compact way. Yet, only limited time is given to technicians to assemble such an element. Moreover, we share with our client a self-discipline is regard of the environmental impact of set construction. As a result, it was decided that no wood would be glued to the metallic structure, making the set fully recyclable by essence. The final design implies up to 200 detachable pieces easy to put together from bottom to top.

How the piece of set is brought up to the audience’s eye was a bit of a concern. Manually pushed up front against a solid border to align perfectly with other elements, the operation needs to be noiseless. But, even more, we ensured the staircase does not tip over towards the orchestra pit when hitting the border. Engineers chose the right compromise between stiffness, weight, and balance. In the end, the piece weights 5.5 tons, with a lowered center of gravity.

Besides engineering this element, the team worked on the design of the full set and provided multiple calculation notices and stability reports.