Meet the Architects of Awe

From May 10 to October 1, 2023, more than 2.7 million fans donned their favorite sparkly silver looks and poured into open-air arenas around the world for the Renaissance World Tour experience. Attendees shared videos and touching moments from the show nonstop on Beyoncé’s internet, from pre-filmed scenes that played out on screens while she performed to Bey belting out ballads while perched on a piano or gliding over the crowd on a disco horse named Reneigh as she said goodnight. But while the “Alien Superstar” singer is famously involved in every detail that goes into making her shows transcendent, she didn’t create the experience alone.

London-based artist Es Devlin, the stage designer behind the record-breaking tour, is the one to thank for the incredible imagery. Es’s work is about more than just the things you can see; she’s keen to make you feel, too. “What I’m really designing are mental structures, as opposed to physical ones,” she told The New Yorker. “Memories are solid, and that’s what I’m trying to build.”



Boy, does she ever succeed. With credits that include U2’s concert dates in the Sphere in Las Vegas, The Weeknd’s stadium tour, several Louis Vuitton fashion shows, the 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony and much more, she’s long been trusted by the best in the biz. In fact, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum is currently exhibiting “An Atlas of Es Devlin,” a retrospective that celebrates 30 years of her work. And a book of the same title offers an intimate look into her process.

Es is featured on the XLIST as an Architect of Awe, an experience maker who can see the future and wants us to experience it together, writ large. Es Devlin, Willo Perron (Perron – Roettinger), Molly Hawkins (creative director for Harry Styles), La Mar C. Taylor (HXOUSE), Hamish Hamilton (Done + Dusted), Nuno Bettencourt (musician and CEO of Atlantis Entertainment), Ethan Tobman (Production Designer), Misty Buckley (Production Designer), and Desiree Perez (CEO and co-founder, Roc Nation) — these larger-than-life visionaries create the world’s most-watched spectacles and tell stories on its largest stages. A peek at each of their profiles illustrates their shared roadmap: they all create massive-scale experiences, lean into their multi-hyphenate status by working across several platforms, and aren’t afraid to innovate and embrace next-level technology.


XLIST 2023: The Architects of Awe

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That certainly applies to Desiree Perez. As the CEO of Roc Nation, she has moved the company beyond its origins — as a record label, publishing, and artist and sports management agency — to grow into several verticals and engage the community in ways that take a 360-degree view of its wants and needs.

That includes curating the 2023 Super Bowl halftime show for the 118.7 million people who watched Rihanna take the stage; The Book of Hov, a takeover of the Brooklyn Public Library featuring the life and work of Roc Nation crown jewel Jay-Z; and the annual Made In America festival, which includes nonprofit partnerships, the dissemination of voting rights info, an onsite dog rescue, and a program that gives young people event-work experience in exchange for a free ticket, meals, and merch.

For Desiree, the platform is less important than the intent. “We have a company that’s not just music,” she told Billboard of the company’s willingness to engage in many disparate spaces. “We’re really just creating culture. That’s really what we’re doing every day.” And those cultural moments, those experiences, are important for the people the Architects serve. The Renaissance World Tour was designed as a safe space for queer folks of color to lean into their true selves, while The Book of Hov invites people back into the library at a time when it’s under attack. And then there’s the economic impact, with large-scale live events generating revenue for local economies and boosting Etsy sellers (where else were we gonna get all those silver ’fits?).

This platform-agnostic approach actually mirrors Desiree’s career strategy; she went from helping out with accounting at the studio where Jay-Z recorded to helping open five 40/40 Club locations to co-founding Roc Nation to running the whole organization, including its philanthropic arm, Team Roc.


But none of this would be possible without another concept that’s important to Architects of Awe: embracing emerging technology. d and crew remade the industry when they launched the Tidal music platform with some of the highest streaming quality available. Willo Perron had the world riveted when he put Rihanna on “floating” platforms during last year’s Super Bowl. Ethan Tobman pushed the boundaries of production design when he created a virtual video game world for the movie Free Guy. And there’s a reason NPR calls Es Devlin “one of the most innovative visual artists in music”; she uses “kinetic sculptures,” video projections, gargantuan screens (one screen for Beyoncé’s Formation World Tour was essentially a revolving six-story building), and even AI to transform spaces.

“For the British band Take That, we ended the show by sending an 80-foot-high mechanical human figure out to the center of the crowd. Like many translations from music to mechanics, this one was initially deemed entirely technically impossible,” Es shares in her 2019 TED Talk. But they made it happen for the sake of the people who came out to enjoy the show. “I call my work stage sculpture, but of course what’s really being sculpted is the experience of the audience,” she says.

And that, readers, is the crux of it all. The Architects make it quite clear that, no matter the scale of your experience, the point is to tailor it to the needs of those who engage with it. The platform matters less than creating collective core memories.

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Experiential Is Everything

XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.