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[Herald Design Forum 2021] Ray Winkler takes on challenges of pandemic, inspires as entertainment architect

Ray Winkler (STUFISH Entertainment Architects)
Ray Winkler (STUFISH Entertainment Architects)

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe last year, the entertainment industry was hit badly with performances and concert tours canceled or postponed one after another.

Ray Winkler, CEO and design director of STUFISH Entertainment Architects, took the crisis as an opportunity to rethink where his team and company stood and how they could overcome the challenge.

“Change is constant. If you can’t adapt to the change, you are done. Stufish is still here because we have been able to adapt to the change, and our adaptation was to think creatively around. As entertainment architects, we solve problems,” Winkler said during a Zoom interview on Sept. 16.

“Audiences and artists can no longer meet. What can we do to overcome this? It was a good wake-up call to reset, to tone it down and think -- ‘Okay what can we do next?’” he said.

STUFISH Entertainment Architects – founded by the late Mark Fisher in 1994 -- is British architecture studio run by a team of entertainment architects who design buildings and spaces for live productions, touring shows, exhibitions and more. Winkler joined the company in 1995 as a registered architect.

“Entertainment architecture” was coined by the company to embody the different values of the two fields.

“Architecture for us is a combination between creating a physical entity [and generating] emotions. And whether it is a building -- imagine standing in front of a cathedral, temple, palace – the emotions that they generate is very similar to standing in front of the stage. We don’t differentiate between a stage, which is more temporary, and a building, which is more permanent,” he said.

As a way to adapt to the change, Winkler and his team recently formed the Vertical Theatre Group and came up with a socially-distanced venue called “Vertical Theatre” that aims to ensure that live entertainment can thrive amid a global pandemic.

A view of the Vertical Theatre (STUFISH Entertainment Architects)
A view of the Vertical Theatre (STUFISH Entertainment Architects)

“This idea came about last year when we realized that the pandemic will probably last longer than anybody anticipates. The response (to the vertical theater) has been overwhelming because it was innovative, in a way, to approach the problem (of the pandemic),” he said.

The semi-open theater features an open air structure with a roof, offering an environment that is physically separated from the next opera box. It can accommodate all types of live entertainment, from theater and festivals to touring artists and televised events, according to STUFISH Entertainment Architects.

Recent examples of high profile tours that the company has been a part of include Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour, Rolling Stones’ No Filter tour, Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On The Run II tour, Take That’s Greatest Hits Live tour and U2 Experience + Innocence 2018 tour. Exhibition designs include the acclaimed and biggest-selling music exhibition of all time, “Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains,” held at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

While STUFISH Entertainment Architects is currently working with BTS, Winkler said he can’t elaborate on the collaboration for now.

Winkler has devoted more than 20 years to designing live touring shows and theatrical projects. He earned a Master‘s degree in architecture from University College London, and became interested in stage design and mobile architecture while doing postgraduate studies at Sci-Arc in Los Angeles California.

Winkler will speak about his recent projects and how his team has adapted to the fast-changing industry at the Herald Design Forum 2021, scheduled to take place Oct. 14 in Seoul.

By Park Yuna (