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Wide-format photo graphic completes exhibit

Graphics | May 1, 2012 | By:

A dyesub printed skin was fitted after the exhibit had shipped—only possible due to accurate patterning and expert design and stitching teamwork.

The story behind the “Range of Light” exhibit for outdoor equipment retailer The North Face is nearly as dramatic as the image depicted on a centrally located fabric backdrop. A panoramic photograph shows North Face tents and an expedition by the Italian mountaineer and alpinist Hervé Barmasse and his team preparing to explore new routes in Pakistan’s Shimshal Valley. The background to designing and fabricating the exhibition is a worthy drama on its own.

Caleb Brown, art director for The North Face exhibit, was working on a graphic timeline of the company’s 40 years of innovation and environmental stewardship to accompany the exhibition. For various reasons, the timeline was shelved at the last minute, but the 6,000-square-foot (60 feet by 100 feet) exhibit maintained its tight timetable of design and production by exhibit specialists Transformit, shipping to the trade show Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City, Utah, within 66 days of start.

Constructed almost entirely of fabric elements, Range of Light contains a theater, a central meeting place, four private meeting rooms, a technical room and six product display areas made up of curvy white walls of fabric bunched together to suggest snowy mountain ranges. The exhibition’s name was taken from the moniker John Muir—naturalist, preservationist and founder of the Sierra Club—used for the Sierra Nevada.

Genesis for the exhibit came from new management at The North Face, who wanted to rebrand the corporate image at trade shows and to assert its leadership in product innovation and in corporate responsibility and sustainability. Nearly every element of the exhibit is made from recycled material or material that can be recycled or repurposed at its end of useful life, a key concept in current sustainability thinking.

Designers of the exhibit, Tom Newhall, Caleb Brown and Transformit’s vice president of marketing Matt Rawdon, sequestered themselves for two weeks in a hothouse “design charrette” at Transformit’s offices in Maine to come up with a design that met The North Face’s new direction.

The exhibit is modular, designed so subsets can be used for small shows or showrooms and easily can be reconfigured on a moment’s notice. The initial 60 feet by 100 feet exhibit weighs less than 15,000 pounds and fits within six steel carts enclosed by fabric covers. Although final numbers are pending, initial estimates predicted that the exhibit has a carbon footprint about one-third of traditional exhibition construction.

The central panoramic photo of mountaintops at dusk—taken by American alpinist and documentarian Kristoffer Erickson—was integrated with another blank white fabric panel (“skin”) used as a projection theater screen. Both fabric panels were put in place on their framework in the center of the exhibit. “We had to rely on accurate patterning,” says Rawdon, “because the frame had already shipped [to the exhibit space]. It fit as expected on the first try—kudos to our design and stitching teams.”

The image was dyesub printed by DesignTex (formerly Portland Color) on Fisher Symmetry fabric and sewn into its fitted slipcase by Transformit after the exhibit was shipped. The printed fabric skin was installed on site by Transformit as the finishing touch.

Bruce Wright is editor of Fabric Architecture and Fabric Graphics publications of the Industrial Fabrics Association International.

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