NAME: AirportlinkM7 Tunnel Charity Dinner 2012
TYPE: Black-tie gala in a unique underground location
CLIENT: Thiess John Holland
CHARITY BENEFICIARY: The Smith Family
BY: j2 ideas & events (seven core creative direction and event management, 176 coordinators, event build and delivery).
VENUE: Brisbane AirportlinkM7 Tunnel, southbound tunnel, Bowen Hills portal
PAX: 510
BUDGET: TOP SECRET

event brief

AirportlinkM7 in Brisbane is Australia’s largest privately-funded transport infrastructure project. After three-and-a-half years of construction, the 6.7km multi-lane, free-flow toll road is complete. Celebrating the magnitude and boldness of AirportlinkM7 was a key objective for the project’s contractor, Thiess John Holland (TJH). Seven weeks out from the opening TJH embarked upon planning a black-tie gala inside one of the AirportlinkM7 tunnels, in conjunction with not-for-profit beneficiary, The Smith Family. The gala would provide the opportunity to showcase the collective achievements of Thiess John Holland and the Leighton Holdings Group in this internationally significant feat. Stakeholders would be celebrated, prospective clients entertained and triumphantly, $80,000 raised for charity.

event overview

TJH had a particular ‘space’ in mind – AirportlinkM7’s widest section and the largest span of road tunnel in the world – a four-lane underground straight stretch at Bowen Hills. This section of tunnel brought genuine live event delivery issues: adequate power, lighting, sound, mandatory emissions testing, catering, amenities and even potable water were planning considerations for event partner, j2 ideas & events (j2).
Recognising critical technical and creative demands and only a short lead time, j2’s managing director, Joanna Jordan, swiftly assembled a specialist event team to provide management surrounding complex rigging, acoustics, projection surfaces and ‘look and feel’ of the function space.
Parameters gradually revealed along the planning journey made it difficult to project costs and schedule the event build and bump-out. The term “tunnel factor” was bandied, given consistent supplier re-quoting once the site was comprehended and implications understood.
j2 conducted between one and two inspections per week, taking up to three hours at a time, bringing multiple suppliers to the event site under TJH’s supervision. As components of the tunnel were sequentially commissioned and infrastructure withdrawn, invariably what worked one week (eg two-way and mobile phone systems), wouldn’t the following. The team began to understand that much testing would need scheduling the week before, once the tunnel reached the state found at bump-in.
Free-standing overhead truss-runs could not be achieved across the wide span of tunnel without putting pillars through the dinner. Rigging points were installed through the tunnel ceiling enabling housing of two parallel 64-metre truss-runs for audio, lighting and projection. Norwest designed an audio system that would work across the 240-metre span.
Stylistically, the desire was to showcase – not change the look of – the underground function space, including not over-illuminating. The whole creative premise was to highlight the tunnel and its raw bitumen, steel and concrete textures. Specific projectors were procured from TDC to light existing wall panels in place of bringing in screens.
Designed to connect imagery of project construction to finished achievement, theming created a spatial flow that comprised three seamless venues within the 240m-long x 16m-wide x 6m-high area: entrance and pre-dinner (construction), dinner (five-star experience) and after-party (glamour lounge).
Red carpet led guests through a massive entrance arch decorated in abstractly-strewn construction materials. Design then simulated “the purple curtain”, a series of pillars at the Bowen Hills entrance to AirportlinkM7 (the gala site). Eight purple pillars featured construction pictures and an audible construction soundscape was created, bringing imagery ‘to life’.
Onwards into pre-dinner drinks, guests encountered transition to a lighter mood – a translation of the Toombul AirportlinkM7 section housing a living green wall. Adjoining timber panels featured formatube extrusions and intrusions into the wall, in which texturised inclusions of artificial grass and live green elements alternated with back-lit images of the project’s finished achievements.
Strategically, design of the dinner area sought to highlight the sheer length and straightness of the chosen tunnel. A precise alignment of chandeliers were hung along the entire length of function space ceiling and accompanied by crystal candelabras atop three perfectly straight table rows.
Linear arrangement of the sparkling crystal led one’s eye to a magnificent white ‘tree bar’ at the end of the space – the ‘after-party’ lounge. A slim-line tree structure was surrounded by a thick wire suspension, threaded with white tasselled-draping, spiralling outwards. Intermittently, elongated irregular mirrors were hung amidst the tassels providing lighting bounce-points.
The resulting theming was ideal visual contrast. Soft, spherical duo-tone floral arrangements and exquisite crystal was illuminated against the harshness of bitumen, concrete, steel and black ceiling. Simply breathtaking!
For a five-star experience, select high-end caterers were approached, yet some determined the event too challenging. Brisbane caterer Wine ‘n Dine ‘m braved the contract, operating superbly out of a temporary kitchen in the egress passageway, requiring alternative emergency evacuation planning to be devised.
Guests were navigated along official proceedings (including auctioning of a BMW 320d) by sporting commentator HG Nelson, jestingly touted as “international tunnelling expert”. Entertainment included the haunting melodics of four-time ARIA Award-winning songstress, Katie Noonan, along with light-hearted numbers from Brisbane band, Phoenix.

challenges & triumphs

The project team triumphed over a quantum of complexities and challenges, not the least of these being legislated conditions imposed within a construction site, which the tunnel remained to be until opened to traffic. Initially fearing production may be hampered by site confines, in reality the relationship with TJH surfaced as one of the most positive event experiences. TJH’s team, allocated to overseeing the event crews, were enormously supportive and interested. Their collaborative approach was an outright success driver.
From suppliers to event guests every individual entering the site was inducted. Build and bump-out crew demonstrated correct personal protective equipment. Event guests were inducted en route during their shuttle journey into the underground tunnel site, approximately 900 metres from the designated greeting point.
Contemplating shared road access inside the tunnel for the first 24 hours bump-in (commencement 1800 hours Thursday) provided further challenge. Until 24 hours out from event, the function space could not exclude construction traffic using one of the four lanes. To plan installation of the 64-metre dual section of truss, theming element-builds and calculating deliveries, the team had to consider the feasibility of three lanes as a working space for crew and equipment, and how TJH and j2 could simultaneously achieve vehicular flow through the event site.
The camber of the road necessitated levelling of every single table – all 51 of them and the revolve of the BMW stage (auction item) could not be determined to work until tested at bump-in.
The velocity of the tunnel’s ventilation system (suited for vehicular traffic) was too strong for the static pedestrian-based situation and created dust circulation. TJH devised a way of ventilating the tunnel to the precise amount of air per second enabling deactivation of the ‘jet’ fans.

event outcomes

Although one of the most creative and logistically- challenged projects ever encountered by the event professionals involved, j2 ideas & events achieved the desired experience – maximum astonishment – within budget and without incident.

client’s comment

“The theming and design of the event developed by your team captured and showcased all of the things that we are so proud to have achieved on Airport Link, as well as highlighting the tunnel itself and the many unique aspects of the project.”

Gordon Ralph, project director, Thiess John Holland (Airportlink, Northern Busway, Airport Roundabout Upgrade Project).

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