The Rise and Fall of the Unique, Unusual & Funky Venue
As event planners, we are always looking for ways to shake things up to deliver memorable events. Over the past decade, technology has transformed our industry, making events more experiential and individualised than ever before. One element that hasn’t really changed to anything near the same degree is the event venue. However, in the Noughties, a trend emerged for unusual and funky venues.
Immersive theatre companies were transforming abandoned spaces into other worlds, temporary restaurants were appearing in old shops for a few evenings before disappearing again and pop-up shops were, well, popping up all over the place. Unconventional venues became all the rage as the quest for originality and difference took a new direction.
Brands and businesses were increasingly hungry to shock and thrill audiences by hosting their events in unusual spaces. Event planners were busy looking to uncover unique spaces to host these events. As everyone clambered to find the most unusual venues, the trend reached its peak. Today, it appears that the trend is slowing down and perhaps even dying out. In this article, we investigate the reasons for the rise and fall of the unusual venue.
The Rise of the Unusual Venue
Event planners have always wanted to deliver more exciting events than those that have gone before. Our clients demand it and its what is expected of us. This means that as event planners we are constantly trying to innovate and push boundaries. When it came to achieving this in the Noughties, one of the relatively untapped areas was the venue. What could be achieved if you held an event somewhere where nobody expected? Somewhere that would be a logistical challenge to pull off? Historical buildings, forgotten spaces, urban environs and incongruous locales were now all fair game.
Event planners turned to Google and started to search using adjectives like quirky, unusual, unique and funky to discover the spaces that would differentiate their offering. The adjectives they used were weighted in favour of originality and non-conformity. Some event planners took to the streets, trying to sniff out off-grid potential spaces to give their events the edge.
It wasn’t long before events and meeting venue finding services noticed the trend. They were quick to capitalise, launching dedicated services to locate unique and unusual spaces. These types of companies still exist with the likes of Funky Venues who, as the name suggests, aim to locate extraordinary spaces spanning art galleries to castles. Venueseekers Black has a roster of unconventional venues that it claims are “a little less ordinary” including historical venues and hidden gems. Companies like Peerspace also began offering unique spaces for meetings and events in cities across the United States and Europe.
Unusual Venues in the UK
The UK was a hotbed for unique venues. Blessed with a rich and varied history and culture as well as natural assets, the UK’s diversity was reflected in its venues. From castles to zoos, World War II bomb shelters to steam trains, industrial relics to caves and idyllic gardens, it had it all. It was even possible to hire the Tower of London, the Battersea PowerStation, and get married in Wookey Hole caves – nothing was off limits. London was unsurprisingly the epicentre for the unusual venue trend.
What Makes a Venue Funky and Unusual
There are a whole range of reasons why a venue can feel unusual:
Location – it could be a room under Tower Bridge,
Central feature – this could be a water fountain, a dinosaur like at the Natural History Museum, or an impressive sculpture.
Incongruous – fine dining in a bookshop, a meeting in the middle of an art gallery, a product launch in a former public toilet
Hidden / secretive – secret events were a thing now too, your venue could be underground or down an alleyway
Mystery – perhaps your venue is a nuclear bunker,
History – a sense of history brings with it a certain ambience
Architecture – when the building makes a statement you know you are on to a winner – this could be Art Deco elegance, gothic power or modernist simplicity.
Views – if the venue offers a rare and spectacular view it is hard to forget
The reasons for the Unusual
Standing Out from the Crowd
For years, events had taken place in the same type of venue. Frankly, it was getting boring and uniform. Everyone was trying to innovate within the confines of the same spaces. Now venues needed to have their own personalities to reflect those of the brands that used them. Businesses wanted events to be different and more memorable for attendees, which meant standing out from the crowd. By breaking with norms, you open up new experiences. This could be by juxtaposing the expected elements of an event with unexpected surroundings to create a powerful experience.
As with most things in event planning, it all comes down to cost. The truth was that unusual venues were often more affordable. Many non-traditional venues were not aware of the money that they could make and were happy to receive any additional revenue. What they tended to charge, especially when compared to custom-built venues, was significantly less. Although today these spaces are harder to find, hunting out unique venues is still worthwhile as Richard Kadri-Langford, head of marketing at Lime Venue Portfolio, explained to Eventbrite:
“Venues are a big part of the event spend, especially if grouped together with the cost of food and beverage; we understand this and want organisers to get the very best bang for their buck. We believe to do this means looking towards unusual venues; they are by their nature not blank canvases and incredibly creative spaces that require less dressing and production costs.”
The Wow Factor
It is a struggle to impress people nowadays with events. They’ve seen it all before. The canopies can be delicious, the booze free and flowing, the entertainment spectacular but ultimately it is all familiar and not very memorable.
When it comes to planning an event, as an event planner you want to deliver a wow factor to attendees to snap them out of their complacency. This was increasingly hard to do in the Noughties. Many people had experienced the grand halls with chandeliers and crystal tableware. However, they had probably never entered an abandoned warehouse for a product launch or a dungeon in a castle for a book reading or a cave complex for a party. The funky venue was born.
The Fall of the Unusual Venue
All of the reasons for wanting to find and use an unusual venue still exist. It hasn’t died out altogether – ‘Quirky venues London’ has a whopping 90 Google searches a month, compared to the more general Events Venue with 390. This still far outstrips terms like ‘exclusive venues’, ‘highend venues’, ‘fancy venues’, ‘elegant venues’ and ‘corporate venues’. But it seems that event planners have other requirements in 2016 beyond a surprising space.
Here are the average monthly searches performed in Google in the UK around Funky Venues, Unique Venues and Unusual Venues:
Google Trends, which provides data on overall search volumes, demonstrates this even more starkly. Here are the search trends around Funky venue since 2004:
Between January and September 2013 and the same period in 2016, average monthly searches had fallen for unusual venues from 140 to 90, a decrease of 50 searches. This 35% downward turn is significant.
So what are the reasons for this decline?
There are complications around using spaces that aren’t dedicated venues for your events. These can occur around health and safety and accessibility, which has a knock on effect with permits and insurance. As well as this, there can be issues with licensing when alcohol is served.
As appealing as a blank canvas space is for many event planners, there are also those that look at a blank space and instantly panic. Transforming a factory floor into a party venue or making a carpark roof fit for a corporate soiree is no mean feat and it can get expensive. You need to consider all of those things you take for granted in a venue and source them yourselves and on budget. Purpose-built venues usually contain all you need to run your event. They have purpose-build stages, seating, tables, lighting and A/V equipment. As appealing as a blank canvas space is for many event planners, there are also those that look at a blank space and instantly pasforming a factory floor into a party venue or making a carpark roof fit for a corporate soiree is no mean feat and it can get expensive. You need to consider all of those things you take for granted in a venue and source them yourselves and on budget.
The trend for funky and unusual venues has not gone away, but there are more qualifiers. Excellence in contemporary events comes from bringing together venues with personality and unique characteristics with state of the art equipment.
20 Bedford Way – Proud to Be Different
As a purpose-built venue within a Grade II listed brutalist masterpiece, 20 Bedford Way is the ideal mix of unique architecture and state-of the art equipment. The building with its impressive concrete juxtapositions realised on a grand scale make 20 Bedford Way have a dramatic impact on those that see it for the first time, standing proud in Bloomsbury. To check out our venue or to find out our very affordable rates then call us on 020 7612 6143, fill out an enquiry form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Header image Regent Theatre, Melbourne, 1929 via Powerhouse Museum on Flickr