When the world's top luxury brand needed unique window shades to protect the goods displayed in its new showpiece shop over the water in a lavish resort development in Singapore, it turned to Toronto's Eventscape Inc.
The $5.7-billion (U.S.) Marina Bay Sands Resort, designed by architect Moshe Safdie of Boston, is the kind of spectacular development springing up around Asia and the Middle East.
The Louis Vuitton "island maison" crystal pavilion is only a small component of the Marina Bay project, but it was recently recognized with the 2012 store of the year award by the Association of Retail Environments (ARE) in Las Vegas.
While the pavilion glitters in the sun like a fine diamond, the sun posed a danger to the leather goods and other fashion items displayed inside, said Gareth Brennan, founder and president of Eventscape.
The ARE award recognized that managing the light levels within the all-glass pavilion was a key challenge for a building designed with a nautical theme, to reflect Vuitton's long association with travel and sailing.
Mr. Safdie and Peter Marino, a New York architect who designed the interior, knew the store would need special window treatments, Mr. Brennan said. Eventscape, a fabrication firm whose tagline is "build the extraordinary," was first brought in to consult by Mr. Marino and FTL Design Engineering Studio of New York.
"We're often the go-to resource for many of the top architects and designers when they need to build very unique installations," Mr. Brennan said. "We build the features that are very special, the things that no one else wants to take on."
Their solution was to create a series of unique custom-framed panels covered with two types of fabric to filter out UV rays without obliterating the view. Two fabrics were used together to achieve the required translucencies.
"It has a beautiful glow from sunlight passing through the panels," Mr. Brennan said of the space. "It's unlike any store I've been in before. The designer wanted it to feel as if you're on a beautiful yacht looking through the white sails. The light is diffused. You don't get shadows. It feels like you're inside a Chinese lantern."
After winning a bidding competition, Eventscape's technical challenge was to perform an on-site survey to create a precise digital model of the multi-angled space, from which patterns for the 306 custom panels could be developed.
In Singapore, detailed contracts were signed, but Vuitton remained anxious, believing the installation could not be completed in time for last September's grand opening, which was to be attended by actress Cate Blanchett and several Asian stars.
After the contracts were signed, Mr. Brennan took the LV client to dinner. "At the end he said, 'I don't care about all these contracts; just look me in the eye and tell me that you can get this done.'"
Several hotels were booked to accommodate the guests coming to the opening, and the movie stars had made time in their shooting schedules. "There was no room for failure," he recalled.
Eventscape had just seven months from its introduction to the project to the maison's opening date, so each metal-framed panel was built in Toronto for just-in-time delivery to Singapore.
The panels were then given quality-control inspections and encased in a protective film that remained on during the installation to protect from damage and dirt. Each week, 50 panels were constructed and shipped by air to Singapore, where they were barged to the LV pavilion to arrive just as the installation crew was ready for them.
The project went smoothly, and even though one dramatic change was introduced by the architects midway through, the project finished a week ahead of schedule, Mr. Brennan said.
Eventscape was founded 17 years ago as a fabricator providing installations for parties and events. Mr. Brennan had trained in sound engineering because his dream was to work on rock concerts with bands such as Pink Floyd and U2.
"I never did get to do a rock concert," he laughed. "But I've always been a visual, creative guy." He followed the business example set by his father, an engineer and a tool and die maker, who emigrated from Manchester, England and eventually started a small business.
As its reputation grew, Eventscape began working on architectural projects around the world. The company has grown from two people working in Mr. Brennan's home in 1993 to 60 people working in a 70,000-square-foot office and fabrication building in south Etobicoke, where 95 per cent of its projects are now built for permanent architectural structures.
With growing success, Mr. Brennan's new dream is to do more projects in Toronto.
He was on a 14-hour plane flight returning from Abu Dhabi, where he had helped stage a royal wedding in 2009, when he said he "began wondering why he wasn't spending more time in our beautiful city".
"There's great design going on all over North America, but there's no city I've worked in that has more cranes up now than Toronto."
Projects that Eventscape has worked on in Toronto include the Corus Quay building on the waterfront, where it built a huge playful undulating ribbon in the atrium, as well as its VIP screening room; the One Bloor, a condo sales centre at Yonge and Bloor, with its "organic urban landscape," and several Oliver & Bonacini restaurants with what has become the chain's recognizable icon, a "portico patio."
Nevertheless, Mr. Brennan continues to be drawn into international projects. The firm recently also fashioned a contemporary look in the historic shell of the Allen Theatre in Cleveland.
"Progressive design is happening all around the world right now," he said. "But places like Abu Dhabi and Singapore are really trying to make a mark for themselves globally.
"That means high-concept projects with fabrication challenges," he said. "We often get brought in because the clients don't want to take any chances. They've spent a lot of money on the design and on construction, so they want the features inside the building to be perfect."
The Singapore contract was signed, the panels had been designed and approved and fabrication was well under way when Eventscape got a surprise.
The architects decided to change one of the fabrics to improve the translucent quality of the panels.
"When they changed fabrics in mid-stride, that really hurt us because they gave us fabric that couldn't be sewn," said Eventscape's Gareth Brennan.
The new fabric, although sturdy enough to withstand UV rays, behaved rather like tinfoil and wrinkled easily. His sewing team lost three or four days of production while they experimented to find a new method of attaching the fabric.
Eventscape could have declined to make the change or meet the deadline but "that just wasn't an option," Mr. Brennan said. "So we just did whatever we could to make it happen."
No matter how carefully projects are planned and estimated, Mr. Brennan said, "these are features that have never been built before. Things pop up and you just have to get it done."
Sewing is a key skill for the company, he said. "Sewers are a prized member of our staff because it's tricky to find sewers today. Not many people can sew in North America today."
Mr. Brennan's second hire was a seamstress who is still with the company, and his team now includes skilled sewers from a variety of countries, each of whom brings different skills and techniques from their native lands.
This diversity helps Eventscape create novel solutions and adapt quickly, Mr. Brennan said. Toronto is an ideal location for global companies that work on innovative projects because its population is so diverse.
To catch up with the production delay and maintain the shipping schedule, Eventscape added a third shift.
"That's the thing I'm really proud of our entire team for," he said. "We hit all of our goals; all of those panels made it to site on time. Everything was on time and we finished a week ahead of schedule."
While he would not comment on the cost of the project, he said just the fabric alone cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Estimating projects that are new and have not been done before is difficult, he said.
"That's why there are very few people doing this kind of thing," Mr. Brennan said. "If you go to a traditional millworker and ask for something unusual, you may just get a flat out 'No' or else you'll get a very high price. For us, it's just another day at the office."