If you were at ISTE 2013 in San Antonio, you may have noticed the Squirrels team tucked away in a corner at a small 10’ by 10’ booth. That was our first year at ISTE, and we quickly realized it was THE place to be. ISTE is a mix of educators from around the world learning about new technology and sharing their experiences with others in the field. The people at ISTE are passionate about what they do, and they’re excited and eager to learn more. That passion drives us back to ISTE every year.
Fast forward three years… past Atlanta in 2014 and Philadelphia in 2015. Our trip to Denver this year was our fourth and largest, most ambitious ISTE yet. After attending ISTE 2015, we committed to making our ISTE 2016 presence bigger and bolder, and we did just that:
Yes, you’re seeing that right. We built a giant tree in the middle of a conference hall.
Planning for ISTE starts months ahead of the actual show, and a lot of people don’t realize the show isn’t the deadline. Weeks before the show, everything needs to ship across the country.
Shipping steel, wood and a plastic tree is a challenge we’ll leave out of this post, but feel free to ponder…
In January (yes, that’s six months before the show), the creative team along with minds on the marketing and administrative teams sat down for a brainstorm. A few hours later, the walls were plastered with tradeshow booth best practices and examples from around the world. The white boards were full, and there was scratch paper everywhere. Everyone was tired, but what came out of that meeting was the start of what would become ISTE 2016 booth number 2945.
We tasked the creative team with designing five concepts that we could build on. One of those concepts was a giant tree, and obviously that’s the concept that made it through to the end.
In its original form, it was an actual tree. We priced out stage props, building our own and, among other ideas, bringing a real live tree. When we originally began talking about the tree idea, some of the team had the idea to create an abstract tree. After realizing a “real” tree wasn’t nearly as creative as we thought, we ran with the abstract idea.
After the initial concept was accepted by the group, we needed to figure out how to actually build an abstract tree. Eventually, we realized we had the skills, tools and materials to do the job ourselves.
By this time, it was nearly May. The shipping deadline was mid June. We had roughly six weeks to fabricate and assemble a tree from scratch. Once we made the decision to build and assemble everything in-house, we had one more obstacle: Space.
We’ve got a roomy office, but it’s not roomy enough to build an 18-foot tree, walls and a presentation area. A local commercial real estate company graciously leased us a short-term building space. Whew, crisis averted.
We started with the tree. We knew what it should look like, but we didn’t know exactly how to build it. The initial concept was far from perfect, but it helped us morph to the final stages rather quickly.
After realizing fiberglass poles were indeed the best way to create the outline of the tree canopy, we needed to figure out how to easily connect them while keeping everything structurally sound.
The initial connection pieces were printed with one of our office 3D printers. After some analysis and realization that the pieces may not be strong enough, we progressed to injection-molded plastic connectors.
We didn’t have a plan for the canopy covering when we started. We progressed through multiple ideas including stretched fabric and polystyrene. We landed on green, semi-transparent acrylic sheets. Aka: PlexiGlass.
We purchased the acrylic material in 8 foot by 4 foot sheets. We have a lot of devices and machines that we like to experiment with here at Squirrels. It just so happens we have a laser cutter that’s perfect for cutting the acrylic material. So the triangle panels were laser cut to size in our office basement.
To attach those panels to the fiberglass frame, we 3D printed small connecting rods that held tight to the pole-based frame and then screwed into the acrylic with tiny thumb screws.
A real tree trunk needs to be structurally sound and able to hold the weight of everything above it. This is also true for our fake tree.
On the inside, a steel truss with custom-welded connection points holds the tree canopy in place safely.
The “bark” of our tree was attached to a custom-welded steel frame as well. This frame, however, didn’t need to hold as much weight, as it was only covering the internal trussing system.
Tree roots are arguably the most important part of any tree. Without roots, trees can’t withstand wind, gravity and other forces.
We couldn’t just bolt the truss system to the floor. The Colorado Convention Center would probably look down on that type of action. So, our root system is built into the booth around the tree. The base of the trunk is bolted into the stage and held in place by the booth walls.
The walls we’re talking about look like one solid piece. However, four separate pieces comprise the middle dividing wall. Trust us, one piece is heavy enough. We didn’t want to move anything heavier.
Now is a good time to mention how talented and creative our employees are. A few of them run a custom wood-working business in their free time. They made a little extra time to custom build our ISTE booth walls! The walls are built from cedar we removed during a renovation of our current offices.
The grass we used for the presentation side is actual outdoor grass carpeting used by professionals in backyards around the United States. It was nifty, easy-to-use and perfect for our tree-themed Squirrels booth.
Once everything was built at our warehouse, we shipped it across the United States. Reassembly in Colorado took about 8 hours, but the result was exactly what we wanted!
That’s how we built the “tree booth!” If you want to know more, feel free to ask us any questions in the comments below. We’re happy to explain everything!