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I’m always looking for new ways to engage attendees and offer them new ways of seeing a space that immerses them in the experience. When we walk into an event space we have a quick scan over what the event designer has installed and then focus on individual items that personally interest us. Visually we process the images within milli-seconds. This visual mapping is a cognitive mental process that allows us to evaluate, judge and commit to memory the decorative elements that creates the event experience. It’s called spatial awareness.
The way we operate as humans means that we often only glance at the ceiling or at the day or night-time sky to plot our position within the servicescape in an auto-mapping exercise. In effect both the sky for outdoor events and the ceilings or space between the ceilings and seating/table height for indoor events is often neglected as part of the design canvas.
Don’t get me wrong. Event designers use balloons, streamers, drapes and other decorative elements making use of the ceiling space. Fireworks are used outside to enhance the outdoor canvas. However there is more you can do to enhance the attendee experience. This article is intended to provide you with some inspiration so that elements within your design is something that attendees can take away as a great memory.
The Floating Island
If you haven’t seen the movie Avatar you may have played Minecraft or read about and seen images of this fictional geographic formation. With helium balloons being an inexpensive item, you can adapt these to create mini floating islands. These could make ideal centre pieces when dressed with flowing floral arrangements affixed to the top of the balloon, but out of view of the seated attendees. Another planning plus is that the centre piece doesn’t take up table space.
If you really want to go over the top, you can create larger floating structures that can be suspended from the ceiling made of a lightweight material such expanded polystyrene. You can hand carve the material into shapes and dress the shape with cotton wool. You could even spray paint the clouds in all sorts of colours. Corporate colours are a good way of showcasing a corporate client.
An Outdoor Room
You could go one step further for your outdoor event. Architect Gustafson Porter used helium balloons to suspend lightweight drapes to form an outdoor feature at the Venice Architectural Biennale in 2008. The floating structure created an elegant outdoor room to shade guests from the sun. But there is a cautionary note here. Remember that helium balloons start to loose gas after a few hours. On the up-side if you get the timing right the balloons start to drop at the time that you want guests to be leaving the event.
The Minstrels Gallery
In the middle ages large houses, palaces and churches designed in a minstrel’s gallery to the main hall spaces. Musicians were placed in the gallery, with the structure raised to near ceiling height to hide the musicians as well as allow the sound waves to bounce downwards of to amplify the music. Whether or not you want to hide musicians, creating a Minstrel’s Gallery from a dressed and draped scissor lift or creating a dressed truss and stage structure could add a strong visual element to your décor and accentuate the performers.
Some years ago when I was launching a range of craft Belgium beers I was inspired by Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ painting for my design. I was looking for an interesting way to serve the beer. The large shell in the painting became the bar. The beer was put into the shell and I had two mermaids sit on rock formations either side to serve the attendees. But something was going to be missing. As the bar was on floor, I had to find a way to create a sightline to the feature. Eureka – acrylic mirror tiles mounted onto a board and suspended from the ceiling!
The Dessert Buffet
Some event designers really push the boat out, but big budgets help to achieve something amazing. One example is how King Dahl, Event Design Director at MGM Resorts wowed his guests. His Dessert Buffet was a fantastic idea. He created a round glass table top with a large hole in the middle. The tabletop was used to lay out the dessert buffet and then suspended from the ceiling above a circular sofa. At the right moment the dessert buffet was lowered down to serving height for the guests to the help themselves.
The Milky Way
In the summer of 2014 I had one of my most memorable moments. It was at the Secret Garden Party in Somerset, England. On Saturday night at the height of the festival – music blaring on stage and people dancing all over the place – an amazing visual experience was revealed. A company called New Substance wowed us all. They designed LED Falling Stars made from tiny LED bulbs attached to specially designed wings, developed to reduce mass and increase aerodynamics. At midnight a biplane flew over the outdoor festival and dropped 5,000 stars over a crowd of 30,000 amazed people. I still look at my branded winged LED light and wish I was there again.
When designing an event you can use more than balloons, streamers and fireworks to animate a space that can be easily forgotten. Being inspired by different fictional and real life structures and ideas will enhance the experience you are designing. By using the ceiling space you add another spatial dimension to the design. A successful ariel design will create a memorable moment in the experience wave that attendees won’t forget.