Design Considerations for New Events Venues
This article is intended for industry professionals, and therefore some of the language used is technical. We have included links to explanatory videos in places where we feel they may be useful, and you can also visit our knowledge centre to learn more.
An events operation can be a major revenue stream for new property developments. In many cases the events operation is the anchor that attracts visitors, residents and tenants to a new development. For an events operation to work it needs to attract the right calibre of events - and to do this requires the right infrastructure.
Without the right infrastructure, events professionals can and will advise performers not to visit a given venue, which can be commercially disastrous.
In this article I will outline the main design considerations architects should take when designing a new event space.
This is vital. When producing events, limited power can completely undermine a show and add to the risk of show failures. There are several considerations with power:
- Size. All serious events venues should have "three phase" power supplies. For small events a 32amp three phase supply will be ample. If there are to be mid-size productions (for 1000+ people) a 63amp three phase and 32amp three phase should be a minimum. For larger, more complex events such as exhibitions a minimum should be 2 x 32-3, 4 x 32-1, 2 x 63-3. If you are considering powering temporary catering from sockets consider several 125-3 supplies or even 400amp powerlock would be appropriate. For reference, major arena venues will have 2 x 400amp powerlock, 2 x 125-3, 4 x 63-3, 4 x 32-3, 2 x 63-1, 4 x 32-1 on each side of the stage.
- Location of "heavy" power - this is the three phase supplies. Ideally these will be as close as possible to the typical setup area. Of course, venue layouts change so it is usually best to have identical power boards at each end of a venue. Location of "local" power - this is the power that comes from wall sockets. I suggest that a wall socket or floor box be installed every two metres around the room - this minimises cable runs.
- Control - event production professionals need control of the power supply. This includes access to breakers and RCDs/RCBOs. In particular variable RCDs are vital - but I suggest these are kept under lock and key to ensure that only competent people have access to them
- Power and voltage data - a simple ammeter and volt meter are very useful items to have at your power board - having these will drastically reduce the risk of power failure.
- Cost - while installing this amount of power may be an initially high capital cost it will fade into insignificance when compared to the cost of installing temporary power, the loss of revenue due to losing bookings, or worse still failed events.
This video will be helpful to understand three phase power.
This video will be helpful to understand single phase power.
The way in which equipment gets into and out of venues is really important. I have worked in venues where it simply is not possible to get a 3m piece of truss or a large oven in through the goods entrance. This can result in equipment being carried through a reception area or even up escalators - far from ideal!
Generally an access route should allow for a piece of equipment 2.5m long by 1.5m wide by 1.8m high to be wheeled through. This may seem enormous but items such as lighting racks and larger control racks are often based around an 8' x 4' footprint - not to mention large set pieces or even cars that may want to be brought into your venue.
This size of access route will certainly require double fire doors. Ideally corridors will be straight from loading area to event space - if this is not possible, any bends or dog legs need to be very wide.
If you are considering doing automotive events make sure that a car can be driven into the space. SXS own a stock of "go jaks" – a product which allows cars to be moved sideways – which are incredibly udeful.
The length of access route would ideally be as short as possible, but this is less of a consideration if the size is sufficient. As long as equipment can be wheeled off the truck and to the event space with as few level changes or turns as possible, production staff will be happy – just factor in that a long corridor will take more time to push everything down.
Steps should be avoided at all costs! If there are elevation issues with your design, always consider ramps or lifts over stairs – even a single step can cause issues.
There are many wonderful event spaces that do not win business due to their poor vehicle access - this is a particular issue in central London. Aim to ensure that there is provision for flat-ground goods vehicle parking near the venue doors. Better still have a proper loading bay that allows for several trucks to park at once.
If you are in a tight space, such as a city centre, aim to make the street directly outside your goods-in bay a designated loading area. Many events rely on trucks of 44 feet (13.5m) in length to transport their equipment to site, and not having the ability to temporarily park one at or near the entrance can double or triple logistics costs – a deal breaker for some.
Overhead rigging is absolutely vital for almost all events. ‘Rigging’ is the equipment and processes by which equipment can be hung overhead. This can include speakers, lights, video screens, print graphics, decor and even lightweight items like flowers.
Where the ceiling is covered (plaster, ceiling tiles etc) there should be trap doors where pre-installed rigging points can be accessed. As most rigging equipment is designed for straight trusses and square ‘grids’, these points should be designed in a manner which facilitates this. It has been known for venues to have rigging points installed in concentric sweeping curves across the ceiling – this may seem like a good idea to a designer but is a nightmare for a rigger. I would recommend liaising with a competent rigging company such as SXS when installing these rigging points. You will also need to engage the services of a structural engineer. SXS can also advise with this.
Each rigging point should have a Safe Working Load (SWL) of at least 500kg. 1000kg is preferred for modern productions.
This video will be helpful for you to understand the basic principles of rigging.
It is common practise and sensible for a venue to have a preferred in-house rigging contractor. SXS is an excellent choice for this.
It is likely that wider architectural considerations will determine the ceiling height of a venue. However, it is important to note that a low ceiling in a medium/large venue may completely hinder an events operation. Height is very important for a stage or video screens to be high enough for all guests to see over other people's heads. So a ceiling height of under 2.5m makes a space almost useless for even the smallest events. Generally speaking I would suggest the following approximate rule of thumb:
less than 100 guests - 2.5m minimum 100-300 guests - at least 3.5m 300 - 1000 guests - at least 4.5m 1000 - 4000 guests - at least 7m (or more if you are looking at having proper concerts) 4000+ - this is arena scale and clearance of at least 15m is needed (ideally 21m+)
Poorly-positioned columns can completely ruin an event space. If you have columns in the middle of your event space you will find that the space (and capacity) afforded by the space behind them can be useless – after all an audience cannot be in a location where they cannot see the stage. Avoid columns, or at least be mindful of the fact that their presence reduces the usefulness of the space behind them
Ideally event spaces would be on the same level as vehicle access (not necessarily the ground floor if vehicle ramps are in use). But where this is not possible lifts are essential. Carrying equipment up stairs is generally not viable for anything other than the smallest events.
Ideally access lifts will be separate from guest lifts so as to ensure that hazardous equipment movements are not taking place near the public. Access lifts should also be sufficiently durable to sustain knocks and bangs from cases and metalwork. Ideally these lifts will comply with the space requirements as outlined in the "access routes" section above - although this would be a very big lift. As a minimum an access lift should be at least 2.5m long and 1m wide with an internal height of 2m. This allows for typically large items of equipment as 8'x4' stage deck, 2m truss and standard road trunk flight cases. If this footprint is not possible the internal height of the lift could be increased to 2.5m+, which would mean equipment could be tipped onto its end.
Also consider your service contract with the lift installers or maintenance company. If a lift breaks on the day of an event build and there are no alternative access options, it can ruin or even cancel the event, so consider a 24 hour callout and minimum waiting time on any repairs.
Dressing Rooms and office
This is often not considered and lack of these can prevent certain events from taking place in a venue. Dressing rooms generally don’t need to be anything fancy. They don’t need natural daylight nor do they need to be large. But they do need to be near the event space and have access to toilets and showers.
All events will require space for storing cases, excess equipment, rubbish etc. It is possible for professional contractors to remove these from a venue after setup and put back in vehicles, but this can be disruptive, expensive and add to build and derig times. As such a good venue should have some storage space. I suggest 5-10% of the main floor space should be additional "back of house" storage.
Data Cable infrastructure
Running cables can use much of the time it takes for production to be setup. Cable routes can also undermine the aesthetic of a space. To help reduce this data cable infrastructure should be installed. RJ45 (ethernet) cable should go to 4-way sockets throughout the venue, on the walls and in the ceiling. This should then run back to a central patch panel. You could also consider other types of patch for equipment such as cameras or speaker systems. SXS can advise on this if you are unsure.
Power cable infrastructure
As with data, power cable can be messy. In a good venue ‘Socapex’ power runs should go to each major rigging point in the venue and run back to a central patch panel.
Cable "traps" and routes
These are the routes that cables take to get around a venue. These could include:
Discreet screws in door frames to hook cables in Fascias around door frames to hide cables in Fixed or removable hooks on walls or in ceilings to hang looms from Under-floor tunnels for cables Removable floor plates that expose cable trenches
All of the above are appropriate for different use cases.
My team and I are happy to offer venue-specific advice and consultancy services for architects. We can also advise on more specific areas such as rigging methods, acoustics, style and market positioning. Please find me, Johnny Palmer, online to discuss further, or call my office on 0333 022 0171.
Johnny Palmer is an event professional with other 20 years of experience in live event production. He is founder and owner of the UK's most broadly resourced event production company, SXS Events. He is also an active property investor and developer which has given him insight into the construction and architectural considerations of this subject matter.