Three years ago I went to Plan B, an activist festival in Kharkiv, Ukraine. The talks were in an old circus: majestic, gilded, and peeling apart at the top. Everything felt urgent and raw and exciting. There were so many faces and lights and so much noise. By the end, I was exhausted.
The closing party was in a subterranean club. You could hear the urgent techno from the door. Inside, relentless strobe-lit bodies were pounding the ground.
In the corner of the club, there was a single table. Dreamy candle-lit faces encircled the table. And a host at the center, gently pouring each person a cup of hot tea.
It was a different kind of space inside the space. It was a space to find peace without retreat. That's when I knew I would design spaces for peace inside the party.
The Dream Room is a warm, soft experience that runs parallel to and inside the magical chaos of an event. The Dream Room is a ritual space for people to be present, to reflect and connect. Soft cushions, gentle hypnotic sounds, and soft light surround an interactive, slowed-down, live-feed video projection of the party.
The Dream Room is continuously stewarded by hosts who welcome people, serve tea, and actively foster a feeling of welcome, connection, and care.
Events can be exciting, connective, and transformative. But the more overwhelming the excitement, the more intensely people burn out. First we lose the sensitive people, introverts, and the people who find the informational volume too loud. Eventually even the most dedicated extroverts will leave, needing rest and recovery.
Post-event burnout is completely unnecessary. With thoughtful design, we can build events that work better for more people, events that energise and stabilize us. (More about how I approach experience design over here).
A Dream Room is a way for people to stay present in a meaningful way. To stay open without burning out, to take care of ourselves and each other.
You notice the Dream Room immediately. It’s a magical looking tent, with a crinkly golden roof, thick fabric walls, and a hand-painted sign.
You enter through the open flap. There's a seat for you, and you sink into it. Inside, eleven people encircle a low round table. Some are nested deep into cushions, others are stretched out and basking in the warmth.
You look around the room. It’s softly lit, the light filtering through the fabric walls. Some people are sitting peacefully alone, some are quietly speaking with a neighbor. Someone is drawing, someone is reading. You don’t feel any pressure to do anything at all. The soft light, the flickering flame of burning pine sap, and the gentle faces bring a feeling of calm.
Someone is carefully preparing tea. It's a fragrant blend of rosehips and mint. On the table are swirling colors taking the slow form of faces and figures, then dissolving again.
You settle deeper into your seat. Soft ambient tones come through speakers supporting the table. It's deep dream-music, the melody too slow to follow. You watch the swirling colors on the table, listen to the hypnotic sounds, and breathe slowly and deeply.
After some time, you rise up from the cushions. You look through the open flap. The world outside is vivid, bright, and inviting. You feel calm and quietly joyful. You are ready.
Moodboard: left to right: Unknown, Mirazozo - Architects of Air, Unknown, Frambach - the Soft Light, Céline Merhand and Anaïs Morel - Sensorium, Unknown, SCP-354, Crystal Ball Cavern — DANIEL ARSHAM, Captain Tenneal - Okra, Unknown, Ernesto Neto - Celula Nave, Missoni.
For the first Dream Room at A MAZE. Berlin 2018, Popticom made the tent for us and Meredith Thomas made a beautiful interactive projection.
The hosts who brought the installation to life are: Ali Reder, Angela Manna, Beck Michalak, Darshana Jayemanne, Jonas Bohatsch, Lisa Schaeffer, Mariam Zakarian, Mattias Ditto Dittrich, Robert Wolf, Siobhan Gibson, Thryn Henderson, and Till Isenhuth.
Some feedback that made it all worthwhile:
"The Dream Room was the best part of A MAZE."
"The Dream Room was everything I didn't know I needed but now I'll never leave"
"I was sad and I went to the Dream Room and it was ok to be sad and it got better"
"The Dream Room should be at every festival and event."
Below is a 360 degree video clip Meredith made of the Dream Room at A MAZE. Berlin, you can drag to look around the room.
Future Dream Rooms could further explore the gentle and tiny interactions between the people in the Dream Room. The structurelessness of the interactions led to some beautiful and sometimes silent connections.
I'd be curious to explore different placements, different kinds of spaces, and different affordances inside the space.
We still have stickers from the Dream Room. If you want one, just let me know.