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"I was such a lousy guitar player that one day they broke it to me that maybe I should sing instead." — Bono

U2's 360 Tour Claw Reborn as "EECO:" An Interview with Brent Andersen

ECCO Claw Edited

Photos by Braden Farmer for @U2

As we previously reported back in April, U2's iconic 360 Tour stage, seen by millions of concertgoers and nicknamed "The Claw" by fans, has been purchased by the Utah-based Loveland Living Planet Aquarium and will be used as the centerpiece of their Science Learning Campus expansion project. The stage, now renamed EECO (for "Ecosystem Exploration Craft & Observatory"), will permanently change the face of the south end of Utah's Salt Lake Valley, towering sixteen stories in the air adjacent to the heavily-used Interstate 15.

The aquarium has spent the summer assembling the stage, taking care to ensure the structure is engineered well enough to handle Utah's snow loads and other harsh weather conditions. Soon, the structure will rise into the air to its fully assembled height, although the exact date is unknown as wind conditions play a large factor on exactly when the structure can rise into the air. The plaza surrounding the structure will be fully completed in November, with a lighting ceremony to take place around that time. A grand opening is currently being considered for next spring.

Last week, atU2 had the chance to interview Brent Andersen, the CEO of Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, in person to talk about his vision of the Science Learning Campus, the new role that the Claw will play as EECO, and also a little bit about U2 and his experience seeing the 360 Tour and the Claw for the first time.



atU2: What inspired you to expand the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium to become "much more than an aquarium" with the Science Learning Campus?

Brent Andersen: That was actually the plan from the very beginning. The initial concept for the aquarium was to actually build several aquariums in different cities, and also create a research ship, and to theme the aquariums so that they were showcasing ecosystems. Many aquariums showcase a particular area or region - Monterey Bay does Monterey Bay, Long Beach Aquarium does the Pacific. So I didn't want to limit it to just one area, because the way that I learned about how the world’s ecosystems work means showing them all as one collective - freshwater, marine, rainforest, Antarctic - to show how they work, show how they function, show the animals that live there, and then get people to understand it's actually just one interconnected global ecosystem, the Living Planet.

What I didn't know is the exact scope back then, but I knew I could create a sort of campus with different areas and activities, so that we could broaden our reach. Our visitors represent a wide segment of the population already, and the different types of things that we can include in our campus that relate to our mission opened that up to an even broader segment of the population. Whether it's teenagers, grandparents, family, kids, field trips, et cetera, there is something for everyone.

In late 2011, I was working on that campus idea and had most of it designed, and that's when I read the article that U2 had a concept that they wanted to leave the 360 stage behind to become a venue. I thought, "Oh, that would be great as part of the campus." I started working on how the massive structure might fit here. But then I had to quickly pivot to focus on fundraising, getting this building (the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium) built. So I just left it alone.

Then fast forward to 2016, I was refining the now Science Learning Campus plan and I had the Science Learning Center building designed, and then I saw a picture of the 360 tour, and remembered, "Oh that's right! I was going see if the stage was still available.” So I found a model of it as a SketchUp file, I took it and I put it over the site plan, and it just fit perfectly. I couldn't believe it. I didn't even have to move anything.

atU2: How did the name EECO [pronounced like "eco"] come about? And what inspired the name, "Ecosystem Exploration Craft and Observatory?"

Brent Andersen: The naming of it was part of figuring out how to make the structure and what it was - U2’s famous 360 stage - able to still function as a stage, and at the same time tie it to the Living Planet’s mission. That name emanated from the overall concept of using the structure as a “vehicle” to deliver education about our planet. If you envision the structure and the circular stage - that circular stage is in our plan is not just the stage, it's the roof of a building that goes underground. Inside that building, it will be themed as a futuristic starship bridge, and will in fact be a VR experience that takes people on mixed reality ecological discovery missions around the world.  That tied in, was very functional to our mission and is a gesture back to when the band members referred to the stage as their spaceship.  Now it will be a virtual spaceship to teach people about how our planet works.

atU2: The spaceship theme was very prevalent on that tour.

Brent Andersen: It seemed like a good element to build upon and the mixed reality VR offers tremendous possibilities and an endless range of teaching material, all while being exciting and fun at the same time. When our guest sits and puts on the VR headset, they will begin a virtual eco-mission that takes them somewhere in the world. The stage becomes the bridge of the ship, and it unlocks from its position on the ground, levitates up into the bottom of the Claw (EECO), and then the whole thing takes off and becomes our guests’ ship for exploration. It can explore the entire planet – travel underwater, inside volcanoes, it can shrink down and go inside of a human cell and watch cellular processes. It can go forward in time and it can go backward in time.

atU2: That's really fascinating, because on the 360 tour, you'd hear Bono say (right before Elevation), "ready for some liftoff!" To see that come to life per se, in VR, is really fascinating.

Brent Andersen: We like this new life that The Claw will have and perhaps even become a sort of ambassador or icon representing the need to learn about life on Earth. We think this will help people understand the planet better, address important topics like the science behind climate change, conservation of species and habitats, how these things impact people, and the critically important reasons to be better stewards of our planet.

atU2: What kind of an impact do you anticipate EECO and the Science Learning Campus as a whole will provide to the community?

Brent Andersen: With the Science Learning Campus as a whole, we want to teach people about our planet and how it works, and inspire them to do something a little different, whether it's recycling, or solar, or protecting animal species, or protecting environments.

The other thing is also really crucial, and you've probably heard a lot about it in the past several years: we aren't producing enough scientists in the United States anymore. And because of that we're falling behind other industrialized nations. That's why it's a Science Learning Campus, to provide a place that kids especially, and certainly adults, can be inspired by science and pursue a career in the sciences. It doesn't have to be marine biology like me, it can be any of the sciences. In my case, one single experience when I was five years old, getting a book about the ocean, sent me on a path to become a marine biologist, and eventually being the catalyst to create the Living Planet Aquarium. So we can set the table so to speak, and allow all these kids who visit to explore and discover their own interests, and perhaps become scientists one day. If only a small percentage of our million guests per year are inspired this way, we can see a tremendous impact.

atU2: How challenging was it for you to repurpose U2's Claw for the Science Learning Campus?

Brent Andersen: Like just about everything I've tried, it was harder than I ever thought it was going to be and has taken more time. There was engineering that had to be done to convert it to a permanent structure, and some of it had to be retrofit. A lot of the steelwork functioned fine on tour, but it didn't work for snow loads in this environment. Many items had to be refurbished or re-engineered, (for example the skins had to be replaced with a different type of skin with a higher wind load rating and snow load ratings that were meant for this environment). It was a tremendous amount of work that will soon be completed.

atU2: Were there any unperceived difficulties in constructing it after it arrived on site?

Brent Andersen: Yes, trying to come up with a way that we can afford to recreate the lighting package. None of the original lights came with it, and even if they did, they were not meant for permanent outdoor use. So we had to really get innovative on how we were going to come up with re-lighting the structure. The LED lights that went underneath the orange caps to light up the skin were custom made a decade ago. There is no replacement for them, so we actually had to create our own replacement system. Also the steel that supports the fabric, that was another challenge because we have an existing structure and needed to fabricate some new steel members to attach at precisely the right location. Lifting the approximately 200 ton structure, and trying to reassemble this big jigsaw puzzle were all challenging aspects of the project.

atU2: Who have you worked with on acquiring the Claw?

Brent Andersen: We've been working at first primarily with folks from Live Nation, and David James of Panther Management. We've also worked extensively with Stageco, who originally built the structure, Atelier One who was the original engineer, and Architen Landrell who was the original designer for the skins. Every one of these people have been phenomenal to work with, some of the best people in the world.

atU2: What's your story as a U2 fan, and how long have you been interested in the band and their music?

Brent Andersen: I guess the first time I really started enjoying the music was actually during the PopMart tour way back. I didn't go to many concerts, but that's one of the few concerts of any band that I had been to. So for me that experience was amazing. I started listening more to their music after that, but I didn't actually go to another U2 concert until the 360 tour. I went and saw the opening in Barcelona. When I walked into that stadium, I could see the pylon that was sticking out of the top of it, but I couldn't really tell what it was until I walked through the tunnel and went into the general seating area.

I just literally stopped in my tracks. People were saying, "Hey, keep moving." But I was just in awe of this giant structure and I was trying to figure out how it worked, what did it do, what each part’s function was, the design and artistic nature of it, etc. It was imposing and beautiful at the same time. It had this really interesting dynamic, emotionally, to see that juxtaposition. So that stuck with me, and that's what ultimately made me want to take a look to see if there was a possibility to bring that back here in a new life for it.

atU2: Do you have a favorite U2 tour or a favorite album, song or lyric that you'd like to share?

Brent Andersen: I'm not sure if I'm the norm on this, but I liked each album as much as the others.  I enjoy the stylistic changes from album to album as much as the iconic U2 sound of The Joshua Tree. I always view each album as their own artistic creations. I don't expect them to be just like the last one. I appreciate them all individually.

The 360 tour is, for me, it's was just the ultimate. I haven't experienced anything quite like that ever from any band. Just an amazing show that may never be topped.

atU2: In all your years as a U2 fan, did you ever anticipate being in a position to actually purchase and permanently install one of their tours' stages?

Brent Andersen: Never. It wasn't until I read that article that I thought, "wow, that would be interesting." And, like I said, that was 2011 and I really didn't pursue it too far then. I am glad that eventually it worked out how it has.

atU2: Is there anything else you'd like the U2 fan community to know about the Living Planet Aquarium, the Science Learning Campus, or EECO?

Brent Andersen: I just hope they will enjoy it, and in some respects get to experience it again whenever they like, and also incorporate into their experience its new life, and what it represents both to the past, but also what it represents in the future. They can also be part of the recreation by buying a brick or plaque to help make it all possible.



For more information on the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium and EECO, as well as information on how you can donate to the project, please visit https://thelivingplanet.com/eeco/.

(c) Farmer/@U2, 2019