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The World is Getting a Second Vegas Sphere

THE SPHERE in Las Vegas has taken over the internet. It’s the world's biggest sphere and contains the world’s largest screen.

It looks like something that crash landed out of the future. 

But not content with just one giant sphere, Madison Square Garden (MSG) wants to build a second one — in London. Only, London isn’t Vegas. The mega orb is proposed to be built close to residential areas and be lit up from 6am to 11pm every day.

Not surprisingly, the project has proved controversial with numerous protest groups lobbying against its construction. The latest news is that London Mayor Sadiq Kahn has blocked the scheme, though Communities Secretary Michael Gove could still reverse the decision, or it could be adapted and re-submitted. 

So what is this project all about and is London really about to be Vegas-ified?

Getting the Ball Rolling

The Sphere you currently see in Las Vegas began life as a sketch on a napkin: a stick figure inside a giant circle. 

The man who drew it, US business mogul James Dolan, wanted to reinvent live entertainment forever. Fast-forward to today and he may have just done that.

Above: The Las Vegas Sphere under construction. Image courtesy of Sphere Entertainment.

The Sphere opened to rapturous applause. Even U2 were distracted by the sheer presence of the visuals on display when they gave the inaugural performance at the venue. 

The 1.2M individual LED panels that comprise the massive wraparound screen give the illusion of virtual reality without the goggles. Because of the curved screen, images appear as if they’re 3D.

The venue can hold 18,600 people and it has the largest array of loudspeakers in the world with a total of 1,586 - offsetting the problem of acoustics in a spherical structure.

The whole thing was built at a staggering cost of USD $2.3BN but it's perhaps it’s not hard to see why. In many respects it's an engineering marvel.

Constructing the Sphere

The building’s superstructure is made of four concrete cores tied together with 9,700 tonnes of steel to create a series of tensioned ring beams to hold the weight of the 11,000-tonne roof.

With such a big distance to span, the team had to ship the world's fourth-largest crawler crane over from Belgium to position some of the largest and heaviest components. The crane was a construction project in itself — taking 18 days to assemble on site.

To build the roof, an 86-metre shoring tower was first assembled in the middle of the arena. Then, a 154-tonne compression ring was placed on top, where 32 steel trusses all connected.

Due to their immense size and weight the compression ring and trusses were each assembled on the ground over several weeks, before being craned into place.

Above: The Sphere lit up at night. Image courtesy of Sphere Entertainment.

The temporary shoring tower was then removed and the equal forces of the roof structure began to counter each other, creating a column-free, uninterrupted space within the Sphere.

London Calling

Now, there are plans to build a second one in London: a smaller “sister” Sphere that will nonetheless still be absolutely massive and will likely be built in a very similar way. It will have a diameter of 120 metres (that's the same as the London Eye) and stand 96 metres tall (the same height as Big Ben).

With capacity for 21,500 people and a $975M price tag, it comes in cheaper than its Vegas counterpart.

Above: The proposed London Sphere compared to the scale of some of the city's most famous landmarks. Graphic produced by The B1M.

There are a few other key differences as well. One of the issues with the Vegas Sphere has been how much people want to stop and look at it, but there’s nowhere to really do that.

The giant structure is penned in by a golf course on one side and a parking lot on the other. The only place for the public to view the spectacular exterior visuals is from the monorail that passes by or from inside one of the nearby buildings.

The London Sphere will have several dedicated public spaces, as well as four public access points.

The London Location

The London Sphere is planned for a site in East London, and this is where the controversy kicks in. It’s not being built in a particularly touristy location; it’s being built in Stratford. You may know it from a little event they hosted back in 2012.

But the Olympics are long over and Stratford is now a mostly residential area with some other entertainment venues, including the purpose-built ABBA Arena.

The Sphere is planned for a 1.9 hectare triangular site nestled between railway lines and the Westfield Shopping Centre. But it’s also just 76 metres away from people’s homes.

Above: The site location in Stratford, East London. Image produced by The B1M using Google Earth Pro.

More than 2,000 residents have officially objected to the construction of the Sphere. In a borough with 36% of residents living in poverty, some think the investment in the Sphere could better be used on affordable housing.

In addition, a local MP has questioned how the already busy train station would cope with the estimated 60,000 additional people that would come daily to visit the Sphere. Most of all, however, opponents point to the light pollution the Sphere will create.

Above: The B1M's impression of what the Sphere could look like if it were constructed in Stratford.

While the Las Vegas Sphere looks fantastic now as a giant eyeball, emoji or pumpkin, this isn’t what the exterior will be ultimately used for.

It’ll reportedly be used to show ads, charging clients up to $650,000 a week: making it the most expensive billboard in the world.

It's pretty reasonable to guess that's how the London Sphere could be used too; illuminated in animated adverts from 6am to 11pm every day.

Developers of the Sphere offered to give residents closest to the structure blackout window blinds as a compromise, but somehow that didn’t appease them.

Despite this objection from locals, planning permission was granted last year. However, the proposals are yet to be approved by the Mayor of London. The project now remains in a bit of a limbo.

Despite this objection from locals, planning permission was granted last year. However, proposals have been held up by the Mayor of London who is set to decide in November 2023. If he approves it, it will then be sent to the Government for a final round of rubber stamping.

If it isn’t approved by the mayor, MSG may appeal the decision and it will be passed to Communities Secretary Michael Gove for the final say. Either way, there’s still a long road ahead.

Opportunity or Eyesore?

Those who support the venue's development say it could be an incredible opportunity for the area, transforming this underdeveloped site into a thriving destination in itself.

MSG London says the venue would generate 3,200 jobs every year once it opens and bring in roughly 60,000 people daily, 300 days a year, boosting London’s economy by $3BN annually.

It’s very possible the London Sphere will still go ahead, with some caveats. They say they’re working on coming up with solutions to the complaints voiced by locals.

What ends up being built might be a smaller Sphere, or one whose lights have to be dimmed earlier in the evening.

Either way it’s clear from the reaction to the Vegas Sphere that this concept could be something revolutionary. If London doesn’t take up the opportunity, other cities around the world are keen for their own Spheres. Dubai even has a copycat one in development, called Moon.

Once the costs and logistics are worked out, the Sphere is a design that can be pretty easily recreated in many environments.

That little stick figure inside a giant circle may actually end up changing live entertainment forever.

Update: The Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, rejected the scheme on 20 November. It will now be passed to Communities Secretary Michael Gove for review. The decision could be appealed by developers or re-submitted in a different location / form at a later date.

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Video narrated by Fred Mills. Additional footage and images courtesy of Sphere Enterainment, Apple Music.

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