Julia Rutherford Silvers, CSEP

Certified Special Events Professional

Event Management Authority

Like angels and elephants dancing on the head of a pin, our dreams and responsibilities may have no limits, but must be balanced according to the music of the moment.

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Event Management: Architecture, Engineering, or Project Management?

Published in Mark Sonder Productions Ezine, Summer 2006

 

Janet Landey, CSEP, of Party Design Pty Ltd in Johannesburg, South Africa, contends that event designers and organizers need to consider themselves as event architects instead to better reflect their ability to help clients achieve their strategic goals if brought to the table early.

 

Futurist Alvin Toffler suggested, indirectly, that we should think of ourselves as “experiential engineers” because what we are creating is an experience rather than simply an environment or an activity, which will ultimately provide more economic and emotional value to the event consumer.

 

William J. O’Toole of Event Project Management System Pty Ltd in Sydney, Australia, champions the adoption of project management techniques for the effective development and production of events, resulting in improved efficiency, safety, and sustainability.

 

It is interesting that two of these three occupations are used as analogies in sociologist Eliot Freidson’s book Professionalism, the third logic (2001, The University of Chicago Press) as he discusses the forms of knowledge — descriptive, prescriptive and artistic — and the authority claims each type confers on a profession (or, to be more precise, confers status as a profession). Descriptive forms, which include science and scholarship, claim technical authority; prescriptive forms, which include the social norms, claim moral authority; and the arts claim aesthetic authority.

 

The very title of Joe Jeff Goldblatt’s pioneering book Special Events, the Art and Science of Celebration (1990, Van Nostrand Reinhold) captures the duality of the knowledge required of an event management professional. And as one delves into the book one realizes that, in actuality, Freidson’s knowledge triad must be present to ensure that the empirical, artistic, and ethos are incorporated into the deliverables of event management.

 

There is no doubt that all three occupational tasks are required for event management. One must be an architect, interpreting the client’s desires and objectives to design the concept or vision for the event, but this design process must have a strong foundation in the practicalities of event production (engineering and project management). When brought to the table in the earliest stages of event inception, the event architect can shape the design to the strategic goals as they are being developed, and do so within the realities of the resources available.

 

One must be an experiential engineer, interpreting that vision and shaping that design into a structural plan capable of being implemented. Like the steel, bricks, and mortar used to build the building the architect has designed, the event engineer selects and sequences the proper program components and elements that will deliver the experience desired according to the resources available. As event project manager, the goods, services, and personnel are procured and the logistics of implementing the plan are devised and supervised. These three aspects of event management — aesthetic, structural and logistical — may represent a division of labor or may be facets of the work done by an individual practitioner.

 

Architecture, engineering, and project management all employ the technical or scientific types of knowledge. The architect, however, is the only one that gains status through the aesthetic arena, and a large part of that “professional” status comes, according to Freidson, as a result of its singular area of practice — buildings. Engineering and project management are disciplines that are practiced in many different industries, and the tasks they perform vary according to the specialized industry. This perception of status is based on the public’s ability to recognize the architect’s distinct realm of practice and the artistic skills associated with it.

 

I think Janet Landey has the right idea. It is in the realm of aesthetic and strategic authority that event management will gain its status as a profession rather than an occupation or, worse, a commoditized job, no matter how skilled the worker may be or need to be.

 

 

Consider, for example, the Opening Ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. The three-hour spectacle featured tradition, innovation, pageantry, and countless cultural icons celebrating the history of the Games and Italy's rich contributions to theater, art, music, fashion, style, and sports heroes throughout the centuries. The strategic and aesthetic challenges were to integrate the Torino Games’ motto “Passion Lives Here,” highlight and promote “all things Italian,” showcase the city of Turin and the assets of the Piedmont region, meet the IOC specifications for the formal ceremonies, and create a spectacle for worldwide television coverage.

 

The conceptual centerpiece, the single creative element brought together the different protocol and spectacle segments of the production, was the Sparks of Passion, eight inline skaters that wore helmets that spewed two-meter long flames and raced through dancers and around the stage at speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour. This iconic element, meant to symbolize the energy, passion, and speed of the Olympic athletes and the Italians, helped transition the program comprised of six mandatory ceremonial and eight entertainment segments. Rhythm, passion, and speed were infused throughout the program, from the extensive use of innovative pyrotechnics to the disco music that helped maintain the tempo of the athletes’ entry during the Parade of Nations to the Sbandieratori, a complex flag-waving ceremony that began in medieval Italy as a martial art and weapons drill for standard bearers.

 

Every aspect of the program required significant technical, scientific, and logistical expertise, but it was the artistic vision that drove the production and the strategic objectives that directed the ceremonial and entertainment choices made. This is what sets the event “architect” apart from the event “planner” and elevates this to the status of a profession.

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