Extraordinary structures

Nicola Macdonald speaks to temporary structures professionals about their most challenging and large-scale builds.

The phrase ‘temporary structure’ doesn’t quite do justice to the sheer scale and ambition of the structures being created on a daily basis by event professionals.

In that vein, Access sat down with some of the UK’s leading suppliers of temporary structures to discuss the latest industry trends and hear about some of their most challenging and memorable builds.

When you ask them about the challenges they face, most cite one particular factor, which is tricky to predict and potentially problematic to overcome: the weather.

“The great British weather can affect the ground conditions that the structure is being built upon,” says Graham Muir, CEO of Arena Group UK & Europe. “Others are in tricky locations with limited access, so the ability to work alongside a number of suppliers is crucial.”

Arena Group structure at Cheltenham

Arena Group structure at Cheltenham

“There are numerous challenges,” adds Jade Barber, sales and account manager at Mar-Key Group. “Often our event customers have temporary use of the event space, so in order to be cost effective a quick and efficient build is essential.”

The process of building a temporary structure, from initial idea to the event itself, can vary wildly depending on the materials needed, the complexity of the project and the client’s budget. A relatively small project can take just a few weeks, whereas larger events, such as Farnborough International Airshow, might take more than six months. There can also be some unique site-specific issues that have to be overcome.

De Boer's Farnborough structures

De Boer’s Farnborough structures

“Recently, we built the temporary theatre for the current production of the Railway Children shown at King’s Cross,” says John Cochrane, sales director – events at De Boer. “Using 12,300 tonnes of gravel and building 2,600sqm of substructure, we created a temporary raised platform around a real train track.”

The latest trends

Many of the growing trends in the temporary structures sector come from an awareness of high customer expectations. Considerations of event technology are being increasingly incorporated into the design of temporary structures to help improve the overall visitor experience.

“This year our team built exhibition space for the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona,” says Cochrane. “Customer expectation is that the acoustics and mobile communication should be perfect. With seven different auditoria, each offering simultaneous presentations, it was essential that each one be soundproof.”

“Vertical glass has also become more popular,” adds Sarah Campbell, marketing manager at Losberger, “rather than horizontal glass, as customers feel the joins between the glass interrupts the view.”

Losberger's structure at  Range Rover Sport launch

Losberger’s structure at Range Rover Sport launch

Suppliers are increasingly pushing the boundaries in terms of creativity and scale, despite the challenges of the recession.

“Many clients strive for each project to capture an audience’s attention through a bespoke, unique, design-led approach,” says Muir. “However, in times of austerity this can prove to be more of a challenge.”

This may well be the reason that multi-story structures have seen a remarkable increase in popularity, adds Barber: “Multi-levelled structures are a fantastic way of maximising return on an event space footprint, as well as creating practical viewing platforms.”

While the latest trends have an undeniable effect on the sector, there are some fundamental aspects of temporary structures that will remain a high priority for clients and suppliers.

“Trends come and go,” says April Trasler, managing director of Neptunus. “But the main theme over the years, and going forward I’m sure, is continued improvements in design, flexibility and speed of installation and removal.”

When asked what the future of the temporary structure sector might bring, several suppliers point to the popularity of experiential events and bespoke structures.

“This year I believe that it is no longer about events but experiences,” says Cochrane. “Innovation is the key to sustainability in the events sector, both amongst suppliers and event professionals.

“We are already seeing the latest technology such as event apps and audio beacons increasing user engagement.”

Whatever the future holds for the sector, it’s clear that temporary structure suppliers will continue to innovate with creative and ambitious builds. Whether it’s in a packed city centre, a coastal port or even halfway up a mountain, they’ll be eager to tackle the build head-on.

After all, they are, as Barbour says, “on hand to bring your ideas to life.”