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Events ‘Outside the Box’

Event organisers are always looking for an unusual new venue to give their event an impact even before it starts.


So just like clothes shops and cafes have started to spring up for a few days in ‘pop-up’ locations that get everybody talking, events are also ‘popping up’ in temporary locations.

The hugely popular Madame Zingara’s cabaret dinner shows were almost as memorable for the jewel-like tent they were staged in as for the actual show.

This proves how the venue itself can create ambience and buzz.

Several companies specialize in hiring temporary structures for events.

Many are specifically designed for African weather conditions, where blazing heat can change to a tropical storm moments later.

Temporary event structures are definitely becoming more popular in South Africa, said Jodie Cunningham of Gap Factor with our milder climate offering more exciting opportunities and locations.

“The current trend sees companies thinking out of the box when proposing venues to their clients,” Jodie says. “No longer are events limited to a conventional conference or function room.

The setting of the event now becomes part of the décor and event experience, be it on a city centre rooftop, a golf course or in the middle of the bush.” 

One African invention making its mark around the word is the stretch tent.

The first were designed by Freeform Tents in Cape Town, South Africa in 2002, which developed its trademark Freeform fabric to meet waterproofing, fireproofing and longevity requirements in various countries.

The two-way stretch fabric is 100% waterproof and made with super-strong high tenacity yarns. It’s treated with mould inhibitors, UV protectors, UV absorbers and a Teflon coating for dirt repellence.  

Freeform now has a range of stretch fabrics that are machine washable, and can be made in any colour to match the theme of the event.

The material can also be branded with a corporate logo, which makes the tent itself a valuable décor tool for corporate roadshows or product launches.

The smallest can seat 15 for an intimate dinner, while the larger tents can accommodate more than 300 standing for a cocktail party. However, the tents can be seamlessly linked so the size is theoretically unlimited. 

A Freeform tent doesn’t have to be confined to the usual geometric shapes, either.

The material allows designers to re-invent the entertaining space by rigging them from buildings, over terraces, across uneven ground including slopes, or to incorporate features such as trees and rocks to create a more magical space.

It can also be fixed to existing structures like buildings to becoming an extension of the interior space. Freeform Tents makes each of its tents in Cape Town and exports them through agents around the world.

South African Carl Louw, who was involved in developing the stretch fabric from the start, went on to establish Intent Productions in the UK.

He introduced the Freeform Stretch Tent to the UK, where bad weather including ice and snow is a major hindrance for outdoor events.

Louw says you cannot underestimate the beauty of these structures or the buzz and excitement they create. But perhaps the biggest attraction is that they can boldly go where no ordinary tent can pitch. 

They take an average of 3-4 hours to put up, and in the event of poor weather the tent sides are pulled down and interior side panels attached along the perimeter as additional draft excluders.

Entrances are minimised and heaters ensure that any air that does enter the tent is heated. 

Jodie of Gap Factor is a big fan of these stretch tents, and says one of the most memorable temporary structures her company ever created was a stretch tent used for the launch of the TBWA building in Sandton, Johannesburg.

The material was pulled from the top of the building 28m down and used as a screen for an audio-visual presentation. “That was quite a feat,” she says.

Another memorable structure the Gap Factor built was a deck covering 1,000 square meters and ranging in height from flat on the ground to 3.5m above ground. The platform was covered with stretch tents on the edge of the Victoria Falls.

Such unusual projects and working conditions are best met by stretch tents, which are among the most versatile covering solutions on the market. They can provide cover in spaces where conventional marquees cannot be built, Jodie says.

Setting up a temporary structure isn’t cheap compared to using a more mundane but already existing and fully equipped infrastructure like a hotel or conference centre, however.

Particularly if you choose a remote area where you have to bring in all the other crucial peripheral items too, like electricity, flooring and toilet units for the guests.

You might have to get local council approval too.

“Generally speaking, using a stretch tent instead of a conventional marquee is usually more cost effective owing to the fact that the construction time, transport and crew costs are less,” says Jodie.

A newer development than the stretch tent, and one that isn’t widespread yet, is the use of solar panels in fabrics.

The Solar Cloth Company in the UK has developed a cover for parking bays that shades vehicles, generates electricity and runs the security cameras.

One day, perhaps, the material may be used to create tents that will keep people warm and operate the sound and light systems too.

But for all that people love the flexibility of stretchy material that can go anywhere, it has limitations.

Even traditional marquees have their downside, most noticeably when the entire structure shudders in the sudden winds that can see a perfect day in South Africa end in a raging storm.

The answer to those problems may lie in the far more solid yet still temporary structures produced by In2Structures.

The Johannesburg-based company designs and manufactures domes that are made of steel and fire-retardant tarpaulin, solving many of the problems you get with tents, says Otto Wijnberger, its technical consultation director.

The domes are waterproof and windproof even in severe conditions like winds of 120km/h.

Yet they are still very portable and the smallest version, the Midi-Dome, packs up small enough to fit into cargo containers for flying to remote locations.

On site it can be assembled manually without any cranes or forklifts.

Otto says the domes are popular because they can be set up on pretty much any location if there is enough reasonably flat land.

“La Med at Camps Bay is completely in the open and one of the windiest places, but we put up a dome there and it was very novel.

We built a little deck at the front for sundowners overlooking Camps Bay,” he says.

These load-bearing temporary venues have another advantage over marquees – the roof has the strength to support serious amounts of rigging, lighting equipment and projection screens.

“Marquees are about 3m high and you can’t hang anything in them, not even a projector.

With a dome you can climb up to put in rigging over the stage,” Otto says.

They can even take the weight of a car, as In2Structures proved with one memorable event in a Maxi-Dome, where Corsa cars were hung from the roof for unveiling during a General Motors launch event.

The domes are white on the outside but black on the inside for a more dramatic theatrical effect.

That makes them ideal for creating blackout conditions during a conference or a show.

“With a marquee the lights from the stage or video screen flare back off the white interior so it is still exceptionally light inside, but our structures seem to disappear completely,” Otto says.

A large dome erected in a remote location can cost around R1-million, so it’s rarely the way to go for a one-night stand.

But for an event like the South African Music Awards a dome was perfect. It was large enough to accommodate thousands, and was hired for three weeks to allow time for rehearsals before the show. 

“Domes are still very new and at first people are shocked at the price, but they involve a huge amount of steel and comparing a dome with a marquee isn’t a fair comparison, Otto says.

He argues that the price of renting a Midi-Dome compares well to the leading marquee brands, and offer superior facilities. They have a high domed roof and sliding side panels so they can be completely enclosed or almost entirely open.

The smallest version has two half-circles that are joined together on site to create a dome capable of seating 150 guests.

Sections measuring 4m wide can be slotted between the two half-circles to make an ever expanding oval. The number of sections that can be added is theoretically limitless.

The company’s latest development is the Mega-Dome, a 60m wide structure with improved load capacity and height designed for semi-permanent installations. 

In2Structures, which is part of the Gearhouse group, is also taking its structures into Africa. 

The United Nations (UN) hired a dome for use in Namibia. It previously used marquees, but it needed to hang a projection screen in the venue and wanted blackout facilities for better viewing quality.

The UN also recently hosted a conference at Livingstone using a Midi-Dome because there were no permanent conference venues big enough by the Victoria Falls.

That confirms that some parts of Africa suffer from a significant lack of large venues suitable for the eventing industry. So those that are available charge a premium, says Karen Ashwin, MD of The Event Production Company.

For example, the Mövenpick Hotel in Ghana charges by the hour for its conference facilities.

“This lack of large venues on the continent translates into a situation where events in Africa are enormously reliant on utilising marquee structures.

This is also a challenge, as there are relatively few suppliers in Africa who are able to meet the demand and supply the necessary stock,” she says.
Although it is a niche market, the suppliers that do operate in this field can offer a reasonable variety of structures to choose from.

Which model The Event Production Company suggests to its client is very much budget dependent. The choice also depends on which supporting services the particular event requires.

“A regular marquee structure has a disadvantage when utilizing heavy technical equipment as the structure is aluminium, which is light and can’t take the weight of supporting heavy equipment,” says Karen.

If the client wants a stage and lighting equipment, or needs projections screens for a conference, for example, the crew must use ground trussing to rig the equipment.

“On the other hand, a dome structure is made from galvanized steel, which is much stronger and can bear the weight of lights, audio and screens,” Karen says.

These temporary structures are expensive and inflate the budget with additional costs.

On top of the cost of hiring the structure itself comes the cost of transport, rigging, flooring, heating or air conditioning, and building up and breaking down.

In other words, all the equipment that a permanent structure either automatically has or doesn’t require.

“Dependent on the equipment and structures required this can impact significantly on the costs compared to using an existing venue and infrastructure,” Karen confirms.

While opting for a temporary structure can be expedient, such as the United Nations having domes constructed in areas where there are insufficient permanent structures, often it comes back to that generating that all-important ‘wow’ factor. 

Karen says the most amazing venue The Event Production Company over organised was a glass dome on the Grand Parade in Cape Town for the Samsung Africa Forum 2013. 

Whether the price and the complicated logistics are justified by the impact you create is not necessarily a given. 

“At an event like the Million Dollar Golf tournament, a double storey marquee will provide a wow factor – in the same way that a glass dome for a Gala Dinner will.

They are equally impressive, but suited to different styles and types of events.

However, the bottom line remains that any outdoor event utilising temporary structures is more expensive than utilising an existing venue,” she says.

Source : By Lesley Stones : http://www.internationalmeetingsreview.com

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