SXSW + FYI Food Type Installation

On behalf of FYI network for SXSW Interactive, CIVIC dreamed of revamping a ballroom in Austin's historic Driskill Hotel into a sophisticated foodie oasis and desired a focal installation for the space. Together we conceived a food lettering mural to display free nourishment for visitors that would inspire tasteful guest interaction. 

I was originally approached about tabletop installation; in surveying the room's limited size, I suggested an ambitious food type mural, the first of its kind, to grace the space. We tackled Feed Your Imagination, one of the network's indulgent taglines, to encourage viewer interaction from both near and far. The mural needed to appear impressive yet reasonably sized to be assembled in nine hours and replenished several times throughout each day. Further, several ingredients would be rotated every few hours to avoid spoilage while others would last the duration of the exhibit. Chosen items were encouraged to reflect local Austin flavors and mirror featured rotating fare. 

Armed with this arsenal of challenges, I set to planning via Illustrator.

Nashville event builders, MadeFirst, not only constructed the wall according to my plans but completed the seemingly impossible task of building and installing the entire room with masterful skill and little sleep in less than 24 hours. Together we tweaked a few shelves and pegs to reflect variances in the size of ingredients. 

To accurately represent my vision to the builders, I drew on several interior design courses from college to create scale elevations for the 8x15' wall space. This included a rudimentary chip hopper, doughnut poles, and angled display shelf for cupcakes. The eleven characters in Imagination constricted the width of the letterforms and dictated the need for a sans serif treatment; I calculated a height of 48" was necessary to provide the right scale of grandeur while allowing for the ambitious construction time of nine hours. I assumed sweets would be the most popular items and created several stations (either letters or shelving systems) to avoid traffic jams or lines. 

A small yet emphatic Feed Your served as a ribbony crossbar for both the AG, which was laser etched by MadeFirst via my vector lettering to created a woodburn effect. The lettering was 12" and wedged between snug pegs for easy deconstruction.

We decided to plant fresh herbs in the wall to represent the featured tacos, quesos, and bloody marys. Hand cut and mounted floral foam was screwed to the wall, then planted individual bunches of herbs in plastic water picks to avoid mass wilting. The herbs would be sprayed regularly and wrapped nightly with plastic; individual bunches could be replaced or rehydrated when necessary. 

Pegs were measured against Voo-Doo Donuts, a recent addition to 6th Street, to determine their .34" width, allowing each pastry to slide onto the pegs by the hole or nestle between them like makeshift shelves and slots. The doughnuts were stacked carefully to retain their visual appeal while generously filling in the letterform. Doughnut holes supplemented any gaps or small spaces within the A's.

Video via Austin 360.

CIVIC requested a smaller bar sign for subtle station identification that tied in various greenery used in mixology. Floral foam was hand cut and screwed into a pre-painted board to ground mint, lavender, basil, celery, jalapeños, tomatillos, and artichokes into the slab, san serif logo. The greens were attached with water picks and concealed bamboo skewers. 

Besides serving as a focal point, the food type wall was used as a backdrop for FYI's food and travel series, Food Porn. Visitors indulged in various salsas, doughnuts, cornbreads, and cupcakes during filming while judges chose an outstanding restauranteur's cheesy winner for the Quesoff. The space was engaging and consistent in design, allowing guests to mingle, recline, or indulge.

Many, many thanks to the entire crew and the various hands that hammered nails, prepped items, steadied crowds and fought for these bold ideas. SXSW Interactive was enhanced by their dedicated efforts.

Event Management & Design // Ellen Basile, Rachel Pumeroy, Sarah Emery

Coordination // Annie Vaughan

Photography // Daniel Cavazos, Robin Marchant, myself

Construction // MadeFirst

Interiors //  David L. Arsenault

Prep, Transportation, & Build Assistance // Joseph Alessio

Special Thanks // Erik Attkisson, Whole Foods, Delish, Salt & Pine