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When the good people from Audi do venues, they don’t do them by halves. Mike Fletcher explores the glass-fronted quattro rooms
In October 2009, traffic on the elevated section of the M4 in West London would have seemed slower than usual. A curvaceous building wrap, which had been advertising the world’s largest Audi centre as ‘Coming Soon’, had been removed from the outside of the former Lucozade headquarters. Commuters were now getting their first glimpse through the sheer glass façade and, instead of the expected showroom, they found themselves looking at a collection of heritage, rally and racing cars. The sight was literally stopping traffic.
‘Drivers were doing handbrake turns off the motorway into our car park and asking if they could view the collection,’ says the venue’s commercial manager Charlotte Reeves. ‘My team still does 30 show rounds a week.’
The top two floors of this distinctive £44m building, designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, form a dedicated event space, the Audi quattro rooms, where delegates are invited to share the brand experience. Sleek meeting rooms are interspersed with the latest Audi models, there are windows on all sides and five wells in the floor allow daylight to flood between the two levels.
What hits you first on exiting the lift is the deafening silence. This venue is built almost on top of a busy motorway, surrounded by the constant regeneration of the M4 corridor’s ‘golden mile’, yet once inside, you could hear a pin drop.
‘At night, the dining and reception environment is so Manhattan-esque, with the motorway lights reflecting through the glass,’ says Reeves. ‘We’re only 20 minutes from Heathrow and there’s nothing like this located in such close proximity to the airport.’ With more than 2,000sq m of creative space, three boardrooms, three meeting rooms and a lounge screening room, the Audi quattro rooms can accommodate seven simultaneous events or be hired exclusively for up to 340 guests.
The three glass-walled boardrooms, named after Audi concept cars Rosemeyer, Nuvolari and Avus, run down the middle of the top floor. Accommodating 12, 18 and 12 delegates respectively, these rooms soak up the natural daylight but can be blacked out with the touch of a button to ensure privacy when required.
‘More than 50% of Audi vehicles have Bang & Olufsen technology so our rooms are fully equipped with B&O screens, speakers and the distinctive banana phones,’ says Reeves.
Three glass-fronted smaller meeting rooms sit in among the rally, racing and heritage cars on the lower floor, and are named after the three international racing circuits: Le Mans, Monza and Sebring.
Orange and British Gas were sharing the creative environment on the day of my visit. Delegates, reclining in sleek Fritz Hansen-designed chairs, were grouped in small brainstorming clusters across the two floors, while others gathered on sofas in front of the 103-inch Bang & Olufsen screen in the Audi Lounge. The meeting and board rooms were empty, both clients instead preferring the freedom to spread out around the cars and soak up the creativity of the Audi brand. If Apple ever opened a dedicated conferencing and events space, it would have a similar feel.
‘With each group you notice that at least one person is a complete car fanatic. They hang back and you see the sparkle in their eye when they’re being shown around,’ says Reeves. ‘We can take delegates down to see the workshop on the two floors below ground if they wish. It is the most pristine space, with natural daylight drawn down through the wells.
‘When people come to see us, they immediately understand that we are not proposing they stage their event in a car showroom. This is a complete brand experience environment and the whole venue is gently beautiful. We reflect that in our event planning with beautiful bars, complimentary canapés and a flexible approach to layout and configuration.’
Malcolm O’Neill, founder of Malcolm O’Neill Associates, recently staged a conference on behalf of Diageo at the venue. He says: ‘The theme was “Alignment” so the Audi quattro rooms provided the perfect setting. People, machines and environment all working in superb harmony. It is a very exciting and different venue.’ As a former director of corporate relations at Somerset House, Reeves admits that she is now relishing working for a car brand as opposed to a charitable organisation. ‘I’ve always been a fan of the Audi brand,’ she says. ‘There’s a different mindset here and I love the fact that there is available budget and so much scope for developing the offer.’
Reeves is supported by Nick Leevers, former head of events at The Wallace Collection and Justin Blyth who used to work for caterer Rhubarb. On 5 October, she recruited two event managers, or ‘client hosts’ as Audi calls them, and immediately flew the pair out to Audi headquarters in Ingolstadt, Germany to be submerged in the brand.
‘We weren’t allowed into this building until 7 October so we’d been squatting in local hotels or working from home,’ Reeves recalls. ‘On 12 October, we launched to Audi’s key clients and then on the 19th, both we and the downstairs dealership began trading.’
Reeves believes that, as more clients get to know the Audi quattro rooms, all the negative associations that people sometimes have about holding an event above a garage, or in a car showroom, will be dismissed, and the team will hear this misconception less and less. A secondary negative response from city-wide prospective clients is that the venue is located too far west.
Before, Reeves’ only response to this was to send one of the executive fleet of Audis at her disposal to pick up the prospective client, showcasing the level of service the venue is prepared to go to in order to win events business. Now, Reeves can also pitch a more central alternative location, as her and her team have taken on the management of Mayfair Audi. Located directly opposite The Ritz hotel and next to Green Park underground station, Mayfair Audi is housed within a historic listed building. Spanning two floors, it can accommodate up to 200 guests for exclusive events, and boasts a boardroom, which can host up to 24 delegates for private meetings and presentations.
Reeves says: ‘The long-term plan is to transform the Mayfair site into a unique Audi concept venue prior to the 2012 Olympic Games. For now however, it has been tarted up to offer a central West End event location. We can take any of the vehicles from the quattro rooms and transport them over to the Mayfair site so clients are getting the same level of service and layout, just without the quattro rooms’ stunning architectural backdrop. ‘For anyone with a passion for cars, Mayfair Audi can be an exceptional events space. Audi quattro rooms on the other hand is unique, a one-off, and one hell of a design-led playroom.’ We couldn’t agree with Reeves more and the views – both from the inside out and outside in – aren’t bad either.
This feature first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, summer 2010