1 December 2018

PAVILIONS – expo pavilions, sponsor pavilions, brand pavilions – these are temporary buildings or architecture housing events and exhibitions at expos, major events and similar. Given the scale and cost of pavilions, there can be a huge amount of confusion and misguided assumptions about how best to go about creating them. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. It’s a big subject, but if you work in a government or brand and are looking at creating a pavilion, how do you best go about it? Project management alone is not the answer. 6 minutes of video that may save you a small fortune and produce a better pavilion…


Hi, I’m Will Glendinning, and I’d like to talk you about pavilions.

Expo pavilions, sponsor pavilions, brand pavilions, whatever you want to call them, I want to talk about how they’re conceived. If you’re a government or brand, or any other organisation looking for one, how do you best get them set up and moving forwards?

Pavilions are temporary buildings that house experiences, activities, attractions, marketing, promotion stuff… they can facilitate any number of things. I’ve been involved with various pavilions over the last 20 years or so, from concept, procurement and strategy stages, through to design and delivery, and through to the operations side.

I’ve seen what works, I’ve seen what doesn’t work, I’ve seen what kind of works. I truly believe though, that given just how much money these things cost, I mean these are multi-million dollar, multi-million pound ventures, it is almost criminal to not want to extract the most value from them and make them as successful and powerful as possible.

Why wouldn’t you want that?

But here’s the rub though, the decisions you make right at the outset of the process, can have a far bigger impact on how successful your pavilion is than the decisions other people may make further down the line.

Now there are generally, two fundamentally different principals that are adopted with pavilions. The first works quite well, is well proven, the second one, is a little bit more hit and miss.

Let’s first look at the approach, that to me anyway, makes the most sense and produces the best results. First up, this is you. You then need to go about finding the right idea for your pavilion. This consists of three things: Building design or the architecture, the content or experience, what happens in it, on it, or around that pavilion, and then the operations side. How does it all work and function?

These are the three fundamental parts of any pavilion, because make no mistake whilst you’re looking for a pavilion what you’re actually creating is an event. The stage: your building, the performance or experience: whats in it, and how it works. The building, content and operations are simply individual components of that overall event, or pavilion. You could find all this from one person, and yes, such people do exist! Or it could be from a design or event agency or some such, or it could be a consortium: a designer or architect, with event, content or experience producers and an operations specialist. As long as that consortium has strong and clear leadership, rather than acting like a committee, it can work perfectly well.

These three things once created by this entity, can also be called something else, the vision. The vision for the look, feel, identity, and experience of pavilion. Once you’ve found something you like, you move forwards, and this entity then oversee or manage the delivery of the construction, either directly or through a main contractor or project management company or some such, the fit out and its operation. And as they do, they’re constantly maintaining and leading their unified overall creative vision across each and every element.


Let’s look at the second approach. Again, it starts with you. And as pavilions can often be seen as a building, more than an experience or an event, there can be an assumption that appointing a construction project management company, or some sort of similar committee, is the best route forwards. This management company then set about separately finding the right building design or architect, then someone to design and create the experience and content and then someone to look at the operations side. And once those have been found or approved, each party will then oversee the construction, the fit out and operations side of things. And in this mix there will be all manner of advisors, consultants and experts, in various ways supporting the effort.

It makes sense. Or does it?

Whilst this approach will result in a pavilion, possibly a beautiful one, that beauty may be overly-expensive and only skin deep. What you can end up with when adopting this approach, is silos of activity.

A team looking at the building with their ideas, a team looking at the experience and content with their ideas, and then the operations bit bolted on too. Of course – these teams collaborate and work together in an aim to create something joined up. But you inevitably have different ideas and philosophies competing. And because boundaries blur between each, you can end up with everyone involved competing amongst themselves, and at your cost, for different contracts and fees. You can end up in a mess of contracts, variations and escalations as one party makes one decision affecting what the others are doing too.

And of course remember, the date your pavilion opens is fixed, which adds further pressure to all of us.

Now, yes, you have the management company there to try and manage all this, though their expertise is often borne from the construction industry, rather than creative or entertainment worlds. Project management alone isn’t enough. There also needs to be this vision. A vision that leads everything, just as a conductor conducts an orchestra. You need that singular creative vision conducting every element: the architecture, the experience, and how it operates.

It is only when the pavilion’s design, or architecture, what happens in it, its content and how it works, are all designed together beautifully and seamlessly, to get the best results. It’s quite different, for example, to designing a museum. Where you get the museum, design and built, and over the course of however many years, has its different experiences, events and exhibitions, programmed and design to go in it. These pavilions are moments in time, temporary events.

Your pavilion and its architecture and what happens in it, have to work together for that short period of time. It is that overall vision that pro-actively and with authority leads everyone forwards, overseeing all design and delivery work, resolving all conflicts or issues, and making the decisions necessary to maintain the overall creative integrity of that initial vision or idea you originally bought in to.

So if you’d like my advice… don’t do this [the second option], do this [the first option]. You can still have all the project and contract management, cost controls and risk management you get with the other approach, but this one will likely save you an awful lot of time and money, hundreds of thousands or millions potentially. You’ll enjoy the process a lot more too, which shouldn’t be underestimated as that immovable deadline accelerates towards you. Most importantly though, you’ll end up with the most amazing design, hosting the most amazing experience that both you and your visitors will get the most from.

That’s all from me in this video, I hope the insights and principles provide food for thought.

Thanks for watching.

Speak to you again soon.