When the 2021 Edinburgh International Festival asked Worcestershire, U.K.-based Fews Marquees to provide structures for three of its performance areas, the company had no hesitation in recommending its Igloo marquees for the event. And while the job may have been more than Fews bargained for, it was a challenge worth accepting.
“Back in August last year, we built a number of very large Igloo marquee structures at the Edinburgh International Festival, and despite the COVID restrictions on each site, it was a fantastic event and a huge success,” says Andy Dingley, marketing and business development manager for Fews Marquees. “However, there was one structure which presented an interesting challenge for our project managers and rigging teams.”
For three weeks every August since 1947, Scotland’s capital transforms into a celebration of music, theater, opera and dance for people from all nations. The festival recruited Fews Marquees to provide structures for performance areas, on sites including the Edinburgh Academy Junior School, Edinburgh Park and the Old College Quad.
What made Igloo marquees perfect for the event is that they’re designed in modular widths, with structural technology and acoustics that allow event designers to create performance spaces with elevated levels of height and light. “Each area focused on a different program of entertainment and included socially distanced seating plans,” Dingley says. “The design also serves a market specifically where height, width and suspended weight are critical.”
Venue 1: Edinburgh Academy Junior School
The shape and structure of Igloo marquees enhance acoustics—making them a perfect venue for musical and other performance events. Of the three sites on which Fews Marquees installed structures for the festival, Edinburgh Academy Junior School was the one that provided the most seamless installation. For the largest of the installations, Fews installed a 30-by-100-meter Igloo marquee structure to provide evening entertainment throughout the festival.
Designed to offer the best “outdoor” experience under a protective cover, the 14-meter-high structure hosted the event’s opening night, which featured two concert performances by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In addition to clear PVC, the installation featured blackout PVC installed above the stage area for dramatic effect and optimum viewing.
Venue 2: Edinburgh Park
A new location for the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Park was made possible through the generous support of Sir Ewan and Lady Brown—and featured another Igloo marquee designed and installed by Fews Marquees. The 30-by-95-meter structure housed festival-going crowds for the duration of the festival as they enjoyed contemporary dynamic concerts, including those performed by groundbreaking artists from Scotland, the U.K. and beyond. As with the installation at the Edinburgh Academy Junior High School, blackout PVC offered a visual statement above the stage. Additionally, the 16-meter height, covered by white PVC, created an expansive environment for the musical events.
Venue 3: Old College Quad
The Old College Quad outdoor venue was home to the afternoon chamber music series—a series of traditional Scottish music, including five nights of inspirational spoken word and late-night cabaret, and was also by far the most challenging of the installations. “This was a complex build in an enclosed space,” Dingley says.
The site was a challenge for two reasons: it required a particularly tight build space that was situated above underground tunnels—which demanded special attention to installation loads. The tunnels were the result of archaeological excavations that Edinburgh-based Simpson & Brown Architects were commissioned to investigate prior to the redevelopment of the Old College Quad. (The tunnels led to the discovery of several 17th-century archeological remains.) “The network of underground tunnels beneath the quad meant we had to be very careful in ensuring there was limited weight burden on vulnerable areas,” Dingley says. “Specialized cranes were required to build in the quad; plus we had to position loads very carefully to avoid placing weight above the underground tunnels.”
Undaunted by the challenges, Fews Marquees installed a 20-by-50-meter Igloo marquee structure, with a 14-meter internal height, entirely within the quad. The dome and part of the structure were both covered in clear PVC, with the front part and stage area covered in silver/black PVC. To add to the challenges, the entire Igloo structure, cherry pickers, trucks and other build equipment had to go through a narrow 3.5-meter-wide arched entrance at one end of the quad, also with very limited parking on the roadside beyond. “It is a testimony to our project planning, site management and careful rigging crews that the structure was positioned perfectly with no damage to the buildings or ground,” Dingley says. “To see a large structure built within such a small space made everyone wonder how it got in there—a bit like a ship in a bottle really.
“Building three structures of this scale, in a limited time frame, on some challenging sites required considerable planning and coordination with other teams,” Dingley says. “That the installations were achieved to the clients’ satisfaction is a credit to everyone involved.”
Sigrid Tornquist is a Minneapolis, Minn.-based writer and editor, and a former InTents editor.