Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

June 2014

CMP Series: 5 Supercharged Customized Meeting Spaces

By Jennifer N. Dienst

Meetings and events can test the boundaries of the spaces in which they’re contained in countless ways, from physically breaking down walls to building new ones to creating elaborate temporary environments. We spotlight five programs that required a different sort of staging — and how their venues and organizers accommodated them.

In the world of meetings and events, sometimes a big idea needs a big, empty space to truly come alive. But it takes the right venue and a hyper-focused team to get there. When Convene visited the Vancouver Convention Centre during TED2014 a few months ago, we were so inspired by the custom-built Next Chapter Theater and the story behind it that we went looking for other examples of extraordinary temporary environments created inside the oftentimes traditional spaces of convention centers and other blank-canvas venues.

See Also: How One Planner Performed Reconstructive Surgery on a Meeting

We found quite a few — a temporary stage built in a week, a popup car showroom that was also part theater, an outdoor trade show staged for the military, a bunker-secure meeting space fit for the president, and a dog-friendly arena. The examples that follow are special not only because they physically went above and beyond the basics of event space, but because the venues and staff who helped create them quite literally ventured outside the lines.

“Creating unique spaces has become more and more important for events in general,” said Craig Lehto, assistant general manager at the Vancouver Convention Centre. “There’s a creative element that is stronger than ever within the meetings industry. Many feel it’s really important to set the right impression, and they’ll go to quite extreme lengths to make sure that that impression is delivered properly.”

Vancouver Convention Centre

Photo by Ryan Lash

When the world-renowned TED conference moved to the Vancouver Convention Centre for its 30 anniversary this past March — the first time the event had ever been held outside of California — it introduced a new space to go along with its new location. TED2014’s custom-built Next Chapter Theater was designed by David Rockwell of The Rockwell Group, who completely re-envisioned the theater’s experience from both the attendee and the speaker viewpoints, while still squeezing its perimeters into a 52,688-square-foot ballroom on level one of the convention center — and accommodating a tight set-up and break-down schedule.

Seating 1,200 attendees for four days of recording TED Talks, the theater had to not only meet the high production standards of a film set, but also take into account the comfort of the conference’s high-profile attendees. Rockwell’s tiered design, which had 16 different types of seating, from couches to stools created by Steelcase, curved around the stage at a lower level than usual, bringing speakers and listeners physically closer for a more personal connection. And it used locally harvested Douglas fir.

“The most unique part about the TED theater was its intention to connect speaker to audience,” Lehto said. “That, and the essence of the wood. When you walked into the theater, you very much felt the presence of Douglas fir — you could smell it, you could feel it, and it blended in with the surroundings. It wasn’t contrary to what we feel is Vancouver and this convention center, so they took advantage of that. They blended in with it and then took it to another level.”

The theater was carted in piece by piece (there were 8,000 pieces in total) and assembled in the ballroom over the course of eight days. A strict, pre-planned load-in and load-out schedule ensured the theater was ready in time for rehearsals, and a cataloging system tracked every piece, so everything could be broken down and stored nearby until TED2015. “TED is a very important event, and it really starts with ideas and the creation of ideas, so we kind of knew we were in for an interesting ride,” said Lehto, who added that the long move-in combined with a tight timeline presented a unique challenge.

“We really had to be fresh with our approach, and no, we haven’t done this before, but how do we make this happen?”

Copenhagen, Denmark

Photo by Andreas Keller

If the right space doesn’t exist, build it. That’s what happened at Audi’s 2012 A3 Dealer Meeting in Copenhagen, a three-week-long event that hosted 4,000 dealers from all over the world, for which Munich-based SCHMIDHUBER constructed a temporary pavilion — the “Audi Pier” — to host everything from elaborate evening events to a vehicle showroom.

Specializing in brand architecture for exhibitions and events, SCHMIDHUBER was tasked with conceiving and designing the 21,000-square-foot pavilion, which served as the event’s focal point. (A total of four venues were spread throughout Copenhagen and southern Sweden.) The structure not only functioned as a showroom for Audi’s new line of vehicles, but also hosted dinners and performances most evenings. “Both the design and architecture [of the Audi Pier] reflect the dynamics of the Audi design language,” said Martin Weber, senior project manager at SCHMIDHUBER. “[The Audi Pier’s] presence and long-distance impact are supplied by the concise outlines and elegant silhouette of the building.”

In addition to reflecting the spirit and visual essence of the Audi brand, the design of the pier also sought to channel its physical surroundings. The angular exterior of the structure, which overlooked the Copenhagen harbor and opera house, had a striking, hull-like entrance that mimicked the lines of an automobile. Inside, the spaces included a main event area, a vehicle showroom, and a retail shop. Visually interesting yet functional touches like a stairway that doubled as a sitting area and a pedestal that displayed one of Audi’s vehicles made the entry feel inviting and accessible to the public, who were welcome in the shop and the showroom.

On almost every evening of the three-week-long event, 250 guests filled the Audi Pier’s main event space for dinner and a show. They were seated at tables staggered grandstand-style in front of a 100-foot stage, where dancers and musicians creatively reinterpreted the form and function of Audi’s new A3 models. Four conveyor belts built into the stage added another layer to the experience, moving the cars and performers in opposite directions.

Marine Corps Base Quantico

Photo courtesy of Hargrove Inc.

Since 1993, Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Va., has welcomed the U.S. Marine Corps’ Modern Day Marine, a trade show with 500 exhibitors showcasing military equipment, systems, services, and technology to about 8,000 attendees. It’s a unique event not only because its show floor is erected directly on Quantico’s Lejeune Field, but because of a host of logistical challenges.

When Modern Day Marine relocated from Washington, D.C., to Quantico 20 years ago, the show was staged in the base’s aircraft hangars — which house the presidential helicopter fleet — until it outgrew the space. Since then, three conjoined tents totaling 90,000 square feet built on Lejeune Field have provided the infrastructure for the show. The structure takes 18 days to build, and includes a complex flooring system that can support more than a million pounds of freight. In addition, another outdoor exhibit area built around the perimeter of the field showcases aircraft, tanks, and combat vehicles, and is often the site of demonstrations. Even though Modern Day Marine is technically outdoors, it has all the support and services of a typical convention center, including HVAC, electricity, and

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