When the time came for Asia Society Texas Center to open their new, $48 million dollar facility, they called on Melissa Krauser Events to produce the four day long series of events surrounding the Grand Opening. While the occasion definitely called for festive celebrations, it was important that the many varied cultures included in the scope of the mission of Asia Society be represented with the utmost respect.
In order to accommodate the anticipated number of guests, an entire series of temporary structures were built on the building’s parking lot. A 22,000 square foot pavilion plus an additional 41,000 square feet in support structures were constructed from the ground up. The buildings were painstakingly engineered to gently enclose the trees within the parking lot. All structures were decked and finished with carpet, with many individual cuts allowing the flooring to carefully come close to, but not against, the treasured trees. In order to allow the new Yoshio-Taniguchi-designed building the spotlight, the entire 132’ long wall and 36’ high eave of the pavilion facing the building were left clear, creating a dramatic backdrop for the pavilion’s main stage. The remaining three walls were draped from peak to floor in ivory and pale jade green fabric, not only to soften the feel of the room, but to aid in the interior acoustics. Generators, climate control, multiple kitchens and comfort stations were strategically placed throughout the site.
The first event of the four-day celebration was Asia Society’s annual black-tie gala, the Tiger Ball, with a theme of “Illuminating Asia.” In order to reflect the aesthetic intent of the building, all decorative elements were given a minimalist, naturalistic lean. Lighting design included five giant chandeliers inspired by the work of German lighting designer Ingo Maurer. Thirty-six clusters of margarita-green, Japanese lanterns ranging in size from ten to forty inches were lit from within and suspended from the overhead beams. Each of the trees glowed from the use of l.e.d. up-lights at their base. Ambient lighting was also enhanced by each of the 100 tables having their own dim-able pin spot. All paths from the cocktail hour in the building to the seated dinner in the pavilion were lit with clear glass cylinder vases filled with wax pillar candles. These were all precisely lined up in order to continue the planes put in place by the building architect, a detail he deemed extremely important.
It was necessary for the menu of the Tiger Ball to reflect the highly varied cultures of those in attendance. The menu contained elements of Japanese, Chinese, Persian, Australian, Indian, Laotian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and other Pan-Asian flavors all artfully woven together in a delightfully seamless tapestry of taste. Even down to the straight lines in the square china, the smallest details of the menu and its presentation reflected the larger ideals of Asia Society Texas Center’s new building and long standing mission.
Live entertainment that evening also provided a glimpse into the cultures spanning the spectrum of Asia Society’s global reach. An Indonesian gamelan greeted the guests approaching from the valet area. A Chinese pipa player, an Iranian violinist, a Japanese flutist, and an Indian sitar player were all carefully placed throughout the building creating musical vignettes for the many individual spaces within. A Chinese lion dance troupe led the guests from the cocktail party within the building to the dinner within the tent. Legendary jazz musician Harry Sheppard played as guests entered the main pavilion representing America’s unique contribution to the world of music, to be followed by an Australian Aborigine with the haunting music of his didgeridoo. The audience’s attention was commanded to the stage by a Buk Chum, an exciting Korean drum dance and, as a grand finale, internationally acclaimed artists Hafez and Shahram Nazeri and the Rumi Symphony Project gave a truly astounding headline performance.
Immediately upon conclusion of the Tiger Ball, the entire space was transformed overnight for Spotlight Asia, an event created to capture the glamour and excitement of the Tiger Ball, but with a more accessibly priced ticket. One-thousand young professionals came out for their preview of the sleek new building. With a menu equally varied and delectable as the Tiger Ball, this younger set also enjoyed live entertainment that included a DJ mixing international hits, a live didgeridoo playing over beats, another performance from the Chinese lion dancers and a Moroccan dance styled flash mob.
Meanwhile, preparations went on outside transforming the pavilion into the setting for the First Look Festival, a two-day event, free and open to the public. Within the thirty-six hour transformation beginning with the load out of the Tiger Ball, all kitchens were struck, and tables and formal seating were removed to make way for two-dozen booths, stages and performance spaces, as well as hospitality areas.
The Opening Ceremony took place at 11:00 a.m. Saturday morning, culminating with a performance of a Hikeshi group hailing from Osaka, Japan demonstrating the ancient techniques of firefighters from the days of the Shoguns. Both at the ceremony and throughout the day, performing artists and artisans reflecting all parts of the Asian-Pacific region participated in the First Look Festival. Mobile food trucks with a Pan-Asian lean catered to the hungry crowd. Pho, Banh Mi, Indian wraps, Bo Luc Lac, Eggrolls done any number of ways, and many other choices guaranteed full stomachs and happy attendees.
The Grand Opening of Asia Society Texas Center created awareness, excitement and loyal patrons, all stated goals for the organization. Asia Society opened its doors to over 8,500 people in its first four days. Houston’s rich, international profile was never more evident than in the attendees gathered over the course of the events.