11,610 Sq Ft
Of Pipe & Drape
Mirage turned Miracle
NEOM, like us at Event Solutions, is in the business of breathing life into ambitions. The cognitive-conscious company is awash with innovators and doers of the unimaginable, turning a misty vision of a utopia bathed in new technology that sustains it into a wave of reality.
The current that carried us to the coast of San Francisco began across the globe – on a desert coast far away in Saudi Arabia, near the Red Sea. Here a region, unlike any other, is starting to take shape. Its ideas ripple across the sea and lap at the California coast. During the driest year on record, it would be here that inspiration would offer a refreshing glass of hope.
The Future of Water
Like the cycle that drives our planet, each drop would formulate and curate slowly as our team helped NEOM turn their aspirations of a truly exceptional and exclusive two-day event into an exquisite representation of their living laboratory.
The complex inner workings of planning an opening gala and following a conference of this scale and design start like most dreams – with curiosity. We responded to the RFP not with answers but with questions. Looking over the objectives and accomplishments of their business, it was crystal clear that our event designers needed to be just as cutting-edge as the client. Concepts flowed with a cohesive purpose, one leading to the next, each taking us further into a realm that would engage, inspire, and drench the exclusive guest list into awareness and possibility.
The results would be the birth of “The Future of Water”.
Elegant. Coastal. Grand. These are the illustrations of the venue we looked for. The venue would be the first impression and had to provoke feelings as if discovering the lost city of Atlantis with gratuitous pillars, salty breezes, and architecture that breathes in elements of the fine arts of the past while exhaling possibilities for the future. The aptly named “Palace of Fine Arts” is such a venue. “With its Greco-Roman rotunda and colonnades, immaculately planted grounds, lagoon, and super-spacious exhibition center and theater, this San Francisco treasure brings the wow factor” our event coordinator was seeking.
Its historical exterior nicely juxtaposed the extensive event production setup in the interior. Like the ebb and flow of the ocean, the old mixed with new stimulates creative cognition to generate a new wave of ideas and tests the boundaries of what is possible.
Progressive Event Production
The venue doors opened to welcome guests to the future. The 140,000-square-foot venue was transformed with massive LED tiled archways, displaying depictions of water in all its fluid glory.
Imagine the impression of walking through 18-foot-long and 6-foot-high walls of seamless HD LED screens as waves crash around you. This immersive experience would be the transition, tunneling you from the outside world into NEOM’s vision of the future. The guests marveled at the occasion, awashed with awe as the soft sound of oud music drew them ever inwards. Like the current, they could not fight the forward flow into the future.
Question What You Expect
Guests emerged from the tunnel of water into a newly carpeted lobby where a water fountain statue stood, posed as streams cascaded from the statue’s fingertips…Gasps and fingers point as the figure came to life, gracefully blinking and adjusting position – she was alive! Her subtle movements turned a water fountain into a talking piece – an Instagram moment. A living, breathing water statue! Guests could hardly take their eyes off her as they collected their lanyards at the registration desk.
Anticipation rose as the level of expectation for this conference was lifted – if this was the entrance- what experiences would the rest of the event hold?
The Future is Made One Step at a Time
Tackling global problems like climate change, water shortages, and clean energy are no small feats, but with every step, guests took up the staircase, they are reminded of the future of water. Small ripples add up to a big change and every drop matters. With this in mind, the staircase was wrapped in the event branding and designed as a physical reminder. At the top? Our signature branded holographic 3D entrance. Water vapers flowed down the doorway as state-of-the-art projectors displayed NEOM and IDA logos. Guests were washed with the delicate vapors of the very substance that brought them together. Passing through the ethereal veil, they entered the Mezzanine Theatre of the gala-style conference and bathed in the blue hues.
The Immersive Gala
The room opened like the mouth of a river. Carefully placed pipe and drape acted as banks and slowed the flow into the Mezzanine Theatre. Just as well, when you are embarking on a world-class event such as this, you need a moment to take it all in. Blue light washed the room with its touches of succulents and greenery in carefully selected white planters. White tabletops, podium, and panel chairs stood out like caps on a wave. And above, crystal chandeliers glittered like the ocean’s surface with white light filtering through like rays of sunlight peeking through. Elegant and clean, the room drew you in like a tide; and there, spanning the horizon of the massive room, a 220 foot floating projection screen with directions of oceans, landscapes, and (of course) logos.
11,610 Sq Ft of Production
A stage rose from the floor with pure white lounge seating for the speakers to await their turn at the lit branded podium. Behind them, the seamless projector screen displayed videos of sea life with 2D panels of speakers and logos floating on top. Pipe and drape carefully hide the inner workings, leaving the pure, uninterrupted display a highlight of the conference. Cameras would watch the speaker’s every movement and place it on the screen behind them to ensure every person had a front-row seat while speakers amplified their voices in clean and crisp clarity. After all, these messages needed to ring out to future generations across the planet.
Hungry for Change
Landscapes looped on repeat during the cocktail reception. Finely dressed staff hand-passed Ahi Tuna Watermelon Pintxo appetizers, Sweet Pea Arancini, Grilled Zucchini Roll, and Mini Tacos. Bartenders greeted and poured top-shelf refreshments from an aquarium-designed light-up bar. As familiar faces joined the gala, the branded step-n-repeat and ice sculptures became hot spots for selfies and group photos. Soon the room filled with some of the greatest minds on the continent, all hungry for sustenance, both physical and intellectual. Guests were called to their seats to begin the dinner service. Executive Director of Water at NEOM, Gavin van Tonder, and IDA Present/CEO of Almar Water Solutions, Carlos Cosin, provided the intellectual starter with rousing speeches.
Dinner is Served
Dinner was served to the tune of a live musical trio floating over the buzz of energy and eager conversation. Starters included Amuse-Bouche, Caviar Egg Fabergé, Egg Mousseline and Sturgeon Caviar served in an eggshell, Sweet Peas Mousseline and Pickled Brassicas. The first dish had a Mélange of Petit Vegetables, Avocado Lime Smear, Tender Leaves, French Feta, Candied Olives. The second course included Grilled Filet Mignon, Shallot Mustard Seed Chutney, with Fingerling Potatoes, Market Vegetables, and Shallot Jus. Vegans were offered a delicious Risotto of Late Summer Vegetables with Tomato Farci. For the third course, the sweet temptation of Ghirardelli Chocolate and Date Tranche with Fresh Blackberries, Blackberry Smear and Walnut Brittle or Almond Chocolate Tranche with Fresh Blackberries and Blackberry Smear for the gluten-free and vegetarians in attendance.
Mentalist – Challenging Perception
“According to studies, humor reduces hostility, relieves stress, allows a better criticism and helps to communicate difficult messages” (Cite: Psy2Go). With this in mind, a mentalist was explicitly selected to challenge perception and broaden the mind. Inspiring the crowd through entertainment also stimulates the production of endorphins. The surprise of a mentalist performance interrupts the pathways from an expected destination, this is key to creativity. According to Psychology Today, you can use wonder and laughter “to jostle your mind out of its linear thought ruts and into a new, expansive, creative way of thinking.” Precisely the mindset needed to tackle the big problems facing the future of water. Following his hour performance, the closing remarks left guests ready to return the next day to participate in the interactive experiences awaited them.
The following day, guests were welcomed back to the immersive experience from the gala the night before. Knowing what was to come only added to the excitement. After welcome remarks by NEOM and IDA, it was down to business. The first panel discussion was led by a representative from Upwell Water and included speakers from Critical Minerals Corp, Cypress Creek Renewables, Gradient, and Aquatech. Together they tackled the conversation about the opportunities and challenges of the future of water. Executive Director of US National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI) took to the stage following the panel discussion.
Energizing the Brain and Body
Following NAWI, the following panel discussion was “The NEOM Story: A New Future” in which panelists discussed the vision NEOM has for the world. And what a vision it is! Once a mirage of a utopia, now the miracle of the future. A moderator led the panelists from Aither. They included NEOM representatives: Director Rob Garner, Business Development Director Greg Welch, Resource Recovery and Beneficial Reuse Specialist Alaa Ragab, Director of Water Management João Pitta, and Water Program Manager Emma Dannemiller. As if this vision wasn’t exciting enough, the next entertainer to hit the stage would get the blood pumping. The Energizer: Drummers got the conference attendees on their feet and drummed along with their own set of drumsticks in hand. Explosive as it was exciting, interactive engagement like this is vital to provide high energy to refresh the circulatory system and, as a result, refuel the brain.
The Conference Luncheon
A buffet-style lunch was served before an hour intermission of interactive networking, activation stations, and breakout sessions. Guests helped themselves to international-inspired side dishes such as Falafel Cakes, Spanakopita, Fattoush Salad, Beef and Lamb Kibbeh, Stuffed Grape Leaves, Za’atar Beets and Feta Cheese, Artichoke Hearts, Green Olives, Sweet Peppers, freshly made Hummus, Baba Ghanoush, Pita Chips, and of course beautifully flavored Tzatziki. For the main course, Roast Salmon Chermoula, Grilled Sumac Beef Sirloin Gremolata, Butternut Squash, Kale and Chickpea Tagine and Lemon Herbed Couscous with Plumped Apricots. Fresh rolls and butter were also provided. Dessert lovers enjoyed flaky and rich Baklava, perfectly baked Almonds Cookies, bright Orange Blossom Panna Cotta, Tranche of Peach Tart on Puff Pastry, and Fresh Strawberries.
Interactive Networking & Activation Sessions
Following lunch, the interactive networking and activation stations were opened to attendees. There was no shortage of options for conference attendees to engage with and experience. Interactive monitors set with beautifully designed tables adorned with arrangements. Each station had its own unique setup intended to highlight the theme presented. “Ensuring Smart and Connected Water Networks” boasted a curved 8″ x10″ LED wall with graphics so visually stunning it felt as if you were able to reach in and touch them.
Brine Mining Activation Station
“Brine Mining” provided an immersive experience as attendees could sit on the white lounge furniture and be surrounded by the mining graphics projected all around them. These designs were animated, mimicking the very mines they were designed to represent with their unique patterns.
Greg Welch summed it up nicely, “People can see what we are doing is the future of water”.
Bathing in the Engagement
Interactive booths like “Brine for Baths” allowed visitors to create custom bath salt mixtures, a take-home reminder of the conference and exhibit to be enjoyed upon reflection later. The beloved station was kept busy with the sound of salt pouring into the glass bowls. Attendees began with a wooden scoop of bath salts into a glass bowl. They then added their favorite color(s). Following that they could mix alluring scents. To finish a touch of crushed flowers and/or herbs was added before the mixture was poured into a container. Men and women alike enjoyed making a variety of mixtures to enjoy later.
World Wide Water Tasting
Another conference favorite was the water tasting station. Here, guests could sample water from all over the world. At this activation station attendees experienced the subtle differences that this everyday necessity has from location to location.
While we may be worlds apart, this one substance connects us all. This station added yet another sensory experience to solidify the significance of taking authority of the future of water.
The conference would include three breakout sessions. The foremost “Selective Desalination and Value from Brine” was held in the Mezzanine Theatre with its 220-foot floating projection screen. Its description: “Powered with 100% renewable energy, NEOM Water will use high-recovery desalination technologies in a green manner with zero liquid discharge. In a zero liquid discharge commitment, NEOM Water will process brine to extract minerals, metals, and chemicals and create new markets.” Hosts and panelists for this exciting breakout session included representatives from NEOM, Desal and Reuse, Worley, Novocertamine, Aquatech, and UCLA Samueli School of Engineering.
Breakout Session 2
The second breakout session was held downstairs in breakout room 2. Named “Ensuring Smart and Connected Water Networks” this session addressed “Water transmission, distribution, and storage in a digital world where NEOM Water plans to achieve less than 3% water losses in the network. NEOM digital water has just created a proof of concept with partners for its digital twin adoption in the design, construction, and operation phases”. Breakout room 1 had a complete makeover for this tech-savvy group, including pipe and drape and uniquely designed wall panels featuring circuit board patterns. Uplighting in the semi-circular room hid the concrete walls behind a wash of color that responded to the session’s needs. Beautiful arrangements adorned each table as guests enjoyed beverages and insights from the leadership of NEOM.
Breakout Session 3
The third breakout session also happened downstairs in breakout room 6. “Enhancing the Environment Through Water Reutilization” was led by representatives from NEOM, Aither, SFPUC, Stantec, Atkins, Hazen and Sawyer, and MWHt. This session had a tall agenda – “NEOM Water Recycling and Treatment strategy is to recycle and reuse every drop of water for irrigation and landscaping, extract biosolids and nutrients, and generate energy from the system”. An aspiration this poignant deserves an entrance equally as inspirational. For this reason, another LED archway was constructed at its entry. On it, rain drops gathered and streamed down the sides, signifying every single droplet’s value. Inside, attendees were captivated by the content displayed on the massive screens behind the speakers.
The final room used for the conference was the executive room. A board room designed with a collaborative U-shaped table was provided as a get-a-way for the elite of the event.
Here event designers pipe and draped to hide the venue walls and hung the same circuit board inspired wall panels. Colored uplighted again highlighted the new wall adornments, but this time in blue.
In addition, large monitors were placed at each bend of the ‘U’ at an angle to allow the VIPs to indulge in content created for the conference.
Working with NEOM and the water giants of the world was an honor and a great privilege. Together with their vision for the future of water (and, by extension, our very existence) and our experience in crafting world-class events, we were able to soak attendees in an immersive experience unlike any other. The level of detail and production quality put into this gala and conference will be hard to top, but we welcome the challenge. After all, creativity ripples across time and space, touching and inspiring everyone in its path, our very own team included. We will never look the same way across the Bay of San Francisco again. Instead, we will be moved by the current that connects us to the past, present, and future in a way like never before. In water, we now see the potential for the unimaginable, and we have NEOM to thank.
In summary, Gavin Van Tonder said, “The biggest thing we’ve achieved is to put together such a great group of people in the water team because those are the people that are going to build the network”. We could not agree more! Thank you NEOM, IDA, Palace of Fine Arts, and all those who came together to build The Future.