Going pro: the road to IFAI

QuickDome frames were built for boutique festival clients who needed a temporary shelter that went up fast, came down faster, with not too many parts, and could be put up by human power alone. And it needs to look cool!

Archimedes Design has always been a little left-brained and right-brained that way. A happenstance of personalities that seek quality from many vantages. We knew the QuickDome frame was sturdy and versatile. In those first couple years, the creative reward kept us going. We’ve dressed up, projected at, and printed on every surface of a multitude of materials that have covered our QuickDome frames. We surprised and delighted our festival market clients with form and function.

We realized our QuickDome frame had more potential beyond fairs and festivals, but we had no credentials. As a bunch of makers from Burning Man, we designed the structure to withstand harsh UV exposures and strong open wind environments. We had field testing out the wazoo, but we didn’t have real engineering and wind load ratings. This was beginning to hobble us. It was hard to grow outside our boutique festival home.

Last January we put the wheels in motion to change all that. We needed to go pro. Through a partnership with Mirrorball, our mentor Michael Blatter introduced us to Wanderlust and subsequently to one of their sponsors, the Swisse brand. From there, the Dream Dome was born. That project included engineering certification from Clark Reder for our 18’ models. Being a thrifty start-up we figured, “If they’ve already built the model, why not piggyback on that and get ratings on our large configurations too?” Wow, what an eye opening process that was!

2019 Production Hub

The biggest change coming out of that analysis is resizing the poles. Our legacy system was made with ¾” tubing and hub prototypes. Our plan was to transition the system to a larger schedule 40 aluminum pipe. We just didn’t know what size. We would also need an aluminum cast hub that would fit the larger dimensional tubing while meeting engineering standards, design standards, and the one that kicked us in the pants, foundry standards (additional machining, no!). What we learned from engineering is things need to be overbuilt in order to get safety ratings. If your tent can take 100mph wind, it is rated for 50mph. Working with our partners at Arch Hawaii (the exclusive reseller rental agency of our domes in Hawaii), we were able to model a new hub and increase the tubing to 1½” for our larger 26’ models.

By Thanksgiving we were ready to go; so much laborious but important work in 11 months. Couldn’t do it without an amazingly focused team. With our credentials in hand we set our sites on IFAI Tent Expo., the largest trade show for the tent rental industry in North America. It happens every other year, this year in Orlando Florida on January 25-27

Michael, Jodi and Toby at 2019 IFAI

Our booth was awesome. Working with Jodi, Michael, and Rueben to pull-off and execute the design was creative work that makes the spreadsheets feel worthwhile! The booth featured images of our festival heritage, set in a B2B, candy-colored, 50’s-filling-station vibe. It’s fantastic to see something so clearly in your mind become reality at the hands of truly skilled craftspeople

What did we hope for by participating in the event? Customers, always. Suppliers, who were the best makers for our fire-retardant modular covers? Partners, people we could work with to increase our production capacity in distribution footprint. And as much as I hate to say it exposure. “Exposure” is code for “we want your work for free” in the festival world. But exposure with the right audience ain’t so bad. I had no idea how deep into tent geeking I could go until I was deep in it. It was like finding a kin tribe.

How did we feel walking away? Like we got all of those things and more. Whopping amounts of industry knowledge, and a super friendly community that we look forward to seeing next time.

Closing night IFAI party

There’s a small world story I want to end with: On the first day of the event, feeling like the new kids on the block, I expected to know no one. A ballasting exhibit from across the way caught my eye. A genius contraption from B&R Innovations to move mafia blocks, part hand truck, part giant lever. It was an amazing piece of equipment. Nick the owner came over to talk to me and saw my name tag. “Hey Toby how’s it going, we’ve talked before!” Again, I am convinced I will not know a soul, and say he must be mistaken. “No, you had one of your domes out on Governors Island for that event in July. We talked on the phone for over an hour figuring out the ballast Spa Ship would need for that configuration of your dome frame”

“Whoa, yes that was me! One of the most informative hours of my life!, small world! Great to meet you!”

Toby Vann