Utopia and dystopia seem to marry in the MSG Sphere, the immense theater that the owners of Madison Square Garden filed last week and that U2 will debut with a series of concerts dedicated to Attention baby in September. The utopia part has to do with its structure: the MSG Sphere is the largest spherical construction in the world with a maximum perimeter of 157 meters (actually, the building is not a complete sphere, but is resting on a podium) and 66 meters high, which refers to Buckminster Fuller and the tradition of the Gedodesic domes and countercultural engineering of the twentieth century. Until now, the largest sphere in the world was in Stockholm and has a perimeter of 110 meters. In recent years, we’ve seen new spheres at Norman Foster’s Apple Stores and at Renzo Piano’s Museum of Film in Los Angeles. Although they are memories that are far away, both Piano and Foster are also children of the techno-optimistic culture of the 1960s.
And the dystopia part? Above its podium, the MSG Sphere has no openings to the outside, it is a monolithic concrete façade covered by 1.2 million tablets of LED lights that create the illusion of a gigantic canvas. Last week, the owners of the building opened the large spherical screen with more or less artistic montages: reproductions of the Earth and the Moon, lava flows, psychedelic compositions with basketballs… The word storytelling -narrativity, in Spanish- appears prominently in the promotional texts of the MSG Sphere, but everyone assumes that its screen will be the biggest billboard in the world. In addition, in the first photographs of the projections on the sphere, you can also see the lights of a large traffic jam on neighboring Sands Avenue (more of a highway than an avenue). More than a Buckminster Fuller dome, the MSG Sphere resembles the screen façade of Blade Runner in which a Japanese woman appeared to be watching Agent Deckard’s movements.
Some moderately informed spectator would have guessed that the project is the work of Populous, the closest thing to a multinational study-consultancy that has appeared in architecture in recent decades. Populous, based in Kansas City and without an author architect with whom to identify his work, is basically dedicated to building stadiums: he has built 14 courts for the NFL and 10 for the NBA, he has signed the reform of the center court of Wimbledon , the Benfica stadium in Lisbon, Wembley and the Olympic Stadium in London… In Spain, Populous competed for the reforms of the Santiago Bernabéu and the Camp Nou, without success. The transformation of the stadiums, From semi-war scenes to glittering amusement parks, suites and shopsis, in part, the work of his projects and reports.
The funny thing is that the MSG Sphere is presented as the opposite of a stadium. The justification for the project says that the stadiums that usually host large concerts, whether they are football fields or arenas closed, they are not optimal for concerts and shows. La Esfera will offer the capacity of a super pavilion of the NBA (17,400 seats and room for 2,600 more standing spectators) in a single curved bleacher facing the stage. No spectator will have to turn their head to look diagonally at the stage as is often the case today.
The structure also offers a huge interior wall that also can be used as a movie screen. The MSG Sphere program includes the screening of films made to this for your structure: Postcard From Earthby Darren Aronofsky. As a movie theater, La Esfera is prepared to broadcast with parallel sound systems: some stands could listen to the film in Spanish while their neighbors follow it in English. It is also expected that 60% of viewers will have “enriched experiences” in 4D. I mean: When images of Antarctica appear on the screen, they will be cold and they will feel a blow of wind.