Memories by Design
Alumnus uses architecture to craft unique concert experiences
KENNESAW, Ga. (Jul 6, 2018) — Brian Buckner knew from an early age he wanted to become an architect. What he didn’t anticipate was that he would be using the skills he learned in school to design concert experiences on some of the world’s biggest stages.
In April 2017, Buckner and his colleagues were tapped to develop an immersive concert experience for Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods Tour. Fireplay, the architectural and production design studio Buckner cofounded with six others, joined Timberlake’s creative production team and was tasked with building the tour’s scenic design, lighting and special effects. Having studied architecture at Southern Polytechnic State University, Buckner was responsible for design of the stage and props appearing throughout the concert. The goal was to craft a show that left concertgoers speechless regardless of their seats.
The stakes were raised just a few months into developing the tour when Buckner learned that Timberlake was asked to perform at halftime of Super Bowl LII. Though the NFL has its own team dedicated to the technical aspects of the halftime show, Fireplay remained creative producers for Timberlake. The team focused on crafting moments for the show that not only captivated those in the stands, but also the estimated 103.4 million people who were watching the show from home.
Long before he left his fingerprints on one of the largest spectacles in professional sports, Buckner was a high school senior making a tough decision as to where he would continue his academic career. Buckner, whose father was a graduate of SPSU, said he was immediately drawn to its burgeoning architecture program and its unique method of teaching architectural design.
“Everyone I knew was very complimentary of the University’s architectural program and its approach as a very hands-on, practical school,” said Buckner, who graduated in 2007. “It was the overall approach of the school that sticks with me today. The architecture department was very rigorous and engaging. It caused me to think critically and apply logic and rationale behind every design decision.”
Kennesaw State’s program combines architectural theory with technical skills, which Buckner said allowed him to not only conceptualize ideas but land at a practical solution. His undergraduate thesis involved designing experiences using an architectural approach, a practice he continues as one of the co-founders of Fireplay.
“When you say ‘architecture,’ it’s not just about designing buildings,” Buckner said. “What architecture programs can teach you is design. At SPSU, we learned design, but we practiced architecture.”
Brian Buckner and Fireplay, an architectural and production design studio he cofounded with six others, are tasked with building scenic design, lighting and special effects for concerts and special events.
Fireplay takes a similar approach to architecture, he said. The design studio was formally created in January 2017 and focuses on integrating architectural strategy and technology into memorable experiences for concerts and events, among other things. Buckner, who has previous experience working for architectural firms, has taken on projects spanning several industries including retail, hospitality and live entertainment. Ventures have ranged from designing custom furniture for hospitality venues to conceptualizing an entire 40,000-square-foot retail building.
Though the studio had plenty of experience handling other live events, the Super Bowl halftime show presented a different kind of challenge. Buckner said the focus was on creating jaw-dropping visuals and breaking barriers of previous halftime performances.
“We started by creating these moments that we thought would make for exciting visuals for the people at home while leaving a bit of mystery for those in the stands,” he said.
The halftime show started in the Delta Lounge inside Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium before moving Timberlake through the fans seated in the stadium’s lower level. The musician then made his way onto the field to perform on custom-built stages, each made to create awe-inspiring moments reflective of the song being performed. It culminated with a piano tribute to late musical legend Prince, whose image was projected on a large sheet hung in the center of the field as Timberlake performed down below, an homage to Prince’s Super Bowl KLI performance.
On the sideline, Buckner himself was awestruck by what he was witnessing.
“I couldn’t help but think, ‘This is ridiculous,’” he recalled. “My colleagues and I all came to the conclusion that we wouldn’t have been there if we weren’t at the right place at the right time, but I think it truly did start at Southern Polytechnic and the decisions I made while in Marietta. I can trace all of my steps from the education and experience I had there to my everyday job.”
Tony Rizzuto, chair of Kennesaw State’s Department of Architecture, said timing had little to do with Buckner’s success. While studying on the Marietta Campus, Buckner quickly established himself as a capable design influencer.
“He is living proof of the power of an architectural education and how it positions professionals to be able to lead in all kinds of projects,” Rizzuto said. “Architecture is really about problem-solving and collaboration, and the degree really prepares students to be leaders in practice. Brian has maximized these skills.”
– Travis Highfield
Photos by Fireplay; and Andy Lee
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.