In 2010 a small team of engineers, friends, and creative types created an art & music project built on a large mobile platform (an early-70’s open-top double-decker British bus). Together they transformed a former SF-sightseeing tour bus into a tank, armed it with a formidable sound system, advanced lighting, a large generator to power everything, and made the interior and exterior into something extraordinary. This wasn’t their first rodeo doing a large-scale experiential art/design project, but it was certainly the most complex and challenging one they had ever taken on — setting the bar for design, quality, safety, and other considerations very high, and establishing fairly ambitious design goals.
Choosing a 40-year old British bus as the projects platform had some perks, and of course some drawbacks as well.
The good: British double-decker buses are designed to transport a lot of people and are structurally awesome in many ways. The semi-automatic transmission was relatively easy for driving. It came with a built in spiral staircase to the top-deck which offered a fantastic vantage point at pretty much any event.
The bad: Trying to drive a vehicle like this on the highway? You might get 15 or 20-mph on a steep upgrade and 50-mph going downhill if you’re lucky. Need to change a lightbulb? The entire electrical system is 24-volt, so good luck finding compatible bulbs on this side of the atlantic. Need a part? If anything fails it’s not going to be easy to find a replacement.
Throughout the course of these projects they also learned some important lessons about what it means to invest themselves fully in the creative process, and what it means for your partners and friends to do the same. They began with design meetings and planning sessions, defining project milestones, scrutinizing renderings, gathering the necessary equipment, raw steel, tools, and other supplies.
In 2013 the team decided to push the envelope on mobile art and community further and redesigned the project from the ground up. They started work on an elaborate “exo-frame” around the vehicle — a network of welded steel rectangle tube from the chassis up (and throughout) the top deck to provide additional support under heavy weight loads and other stress factors. This redesign was called “The Phoenix”.
Besides welding the aluminum Phoenix and fabricating a dozen steel flames, another area that Justin was focused on was creating the support structure above the top deck of the vehicle, and developing a modular assembly to attach an array of large aesthetic elements.
During this time this team was also working on various fundraising efforts — launching two successful crowd-funding campaigns and organized numerous live music events to support their funding goals.
The DJ booth on the vehicle was constructed from old church pews that were gifted to us by artist Peter Hudson. They reused the end-caps and painted them metallic silver, jokingly called the pews a “gift from god”.
During the previous iteration of the project the team completely removed the standard commuter bus benches and created a brand new interior incorporating a deep red theme and custom furniture to offer a warm and intimate environment.
After many months of planning and construction the new exterior design was complete and it surpassed everyones expectations.
So you may ask: “Why would anyone choose to do something like this?” The answer is somewhere between collaborating with incredibly creative and talented people… solving interesting problems and technical challenges… the potential for some really magical results… and the unexpected (and often wonderful) surprises along the way.
Here are a few examples of the latter:
One sunrise the team discovered that all the fabric used on the entire lower portion of the vehicle rippled from the resonant frequencies being channeled through the speakers and speaker racks. A beautiful surprise.
A brief but fiery love affair with a giant flaming octopus…
A night spent entertaining a massive crowd in front of a 55-ft tall woman…
Hosting incredibly talented DJ/Producers.
But the best reason of all to do something like this is to bring together community, to inspire everyones imaginations, and at the end of the day… to make people happy. Those may sound like overly simplistic reasons — and may be hard to believe if you’re the cynical type — but they were our intentions as artists nonetheless.