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A Muenster Better Block Build at SXSW

We got a call from a friend, who said he had a friend who had a big idea and not a lot of time. Would we be interested in learning more?

Always up for a challenge, we said, yes, of course.

The friend was with Brains on Fire, a marketing group working with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. WMMB had secured a space at South by Southwest. They wanted to activate the space in a way that hadn’t been seen before. Specifically, they wanted to create a barn and the world’s largest cheeseboard, and then, from that cheeseboard, they wanted to serve 2,000 pounds of 100 varieties of cheese. They wanted to build community around cheese. Could we help?

Always up for a challenge, we said, yes, of course.

By the way, they said, this will need to go live in about three weeks.

The silos were two of the trickiest parts of the barn. We did a test build before heading to SXSW.

We got to work designing. Knowing the barn structure would go into a hotel conference room, we had some strict requirements: it couldn’t be longer than 54 feet, no taller than 10-feet (and there was a drop in the middle of the room, so that area had to be a bit shorter), and it had to be built inside the room. And they wanted it to be something they could store and use again. And it had to hold all that cheese.

A before and after look at the room.

We worked off our concept of Wikiblock, which is a library of street furniture designs that can be assembled and disassembled easily and cut out using a CNC router (which is basically a giant printer for wood). After a few rounds of designs, we had something we were pretty excited about. We wanted it to look like the bottom of a ship with exposed ribs. In the end, the piece had 18 such ribs, two silos, and three entry points. It took 70 sheets of 4-feet-by-8-feet of Birch plywood. We broke our Wikiblock rule of no glue, screws, or nails to include hardware. We tested it in our parking lot at our headquarters, took a few photos, made a lot of tweaks, packed it up, and drove it to Austin.

SXSW was already in full swing when we got there; in fact, there were keynotes in the conference room across from the hall from us. So when we started carting in rib after rib, we got a few looks. We also had a bit of a space issue as all our pieces, people, and materials needed to fit in the room and not clutter up the hallway. The masterminds behind Brains on Fire and WMMB had a floor laid and put up a picturesque backdrop of farmland. Our job was to tie it all together.

The team plotting during the build in the conference room at SXSW.

And, in eight hours and with a little muscle from some folks in Austin, we did just that.

The activation was the hit of SXSW. But don’t take our word for it. Check out some of the articles and the video to hear from others who enjoyed the space.

The barn we digitally created wasn’t everything.

It was a piece in a much bigger puzzle. The fact that the team gave away cheese samples and wine had the line out the door the entire time the activation was live. The amazing social media team that responded to every single tweet, Instagram story, and Facebook post with a cheesy pun put it over the top. But, with our barn, we were able to set the stage. And what a brei-eautiful and grate stage it was (sorry, had to).

Olivia, one of the main designers on the project, took a moment to enjoy after the initial build.


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