Exterior Drive-Through Holiday Town

Hi all, looking for some tips for building large exterior-grade facades. I'm working as TD on a drive-though "holiday town" experience and while it's similar to work I've done in the past, the fact that it's two-sided, 300 feet long, and will be up for about six weeks this winter are all new challenges for me. We're basically trying to make a main street facade of 2d building cutouts (back-to-back) in a big parking lot that will be supported by either truss or construction scaffolding in the space between the backsides (maybe 10 or 12 feet deep.) Buildings to be at least 12 feet tall but not more than 16 feet tall, and each one around 16 feet wide. I'm hoping to get some advice on sheet goods (exterior grade MDO? Standard AC? Film Ply?) thoughts on framing to support the seams (steel? flat-framed 2x4? studio studs?) structure to support the entire wall (theatrical truss? construction scaffolding? some combination of the two?) and type of paint (exterior primer and top coat or just primer? oil-based necessary? seal coat?) I've got lots of my own thoughts on this stuff but since I don't really have a design yet, I'd like to spend this time trying to get some of those procedural ducks in a row - this bad boy is supposed to open in 8 weeks (eep!)

Thanks in advance!


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Projected wind speeds? How long does it have to stay up? Local codes in Ol' Milwookie?
Average daily wind speed during the weeks of the run are between 14 and 16 mph. It'll be up for six weeks or so, but the producers are planning to keep it and modify/improve every year. I'm not sure about local codes for something like this since it's temporary in nature, but that's a great question - I'll track that down.


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Exterior. Winter. Six weeks. (And don't think "average" wind speeds--think worst case 50-year storms, or if you have the budget--100-year storms) then "Keep it up and modify every year." You're now talking permanent construction work. Design permanent wall structures that can be re-faced as you want to change appearances. This doesn't sound like stage scenery any more.


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@JonCarter, I think the intent is to store the facades and re-use them.

Emily, Jon is right about wind speeds. I'm in Kansas, where wind is a constant consideration. Not "is there wind" but how much there is. Building a flat surface 16ft tall and *securing* it to a structure that will not fly away with the facade is, as you've alluded, not trivial but not impossible, either. I presume is this for a non-profit organization. Perhaps an engineer is on the Board? If not, perhaps a board member has a friend who owes a favor... but getting some preliminary engineering opinions would seem a prudent first step. I like the idea of using scaffolding (the Laher All-Around or it's imitators) as a re-usable structure. The key is having anchorage to keep if from moving.

Milwaukee may require scaffolding permits & inspections. Using common aluminum truss could turn it into a "temporary demountable entertainment structure" which *does* have Code provisions in many cities and counties (buy maybe not yours).

Back to that 16 foot part... I'm a big fan of using forced perspective over actual height (or depth). As this is a drive-through experience you have some control over the viewing angles of your guests. Your designers should use that to their advantage.

Keep us apprised of the progress. Other than the ridiculously short time to put it together, it sounds like fun!


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I'd submit plans to Clark Reder Engineering for approval. They should be able to OK your structure and calculate needed ballast. We've done this for music festival displays. We used 55 gallon drums of water for ballast (uline has nice, nest-able ones), but freezing would be a problem. An event rental company that does tents would have concrete ballasts you could rent. Maybe the scaffolding company would have them if you go that route.

For surfaces, MDO would be great, or exterior MDF or expanded PVC (sintra). All pricey and heavy. ACX will hold up for a few years with good priming and sealing, paying special attention to the edges. Same with 2x4 framing, though steel is always better, and aluminum better still.

I'd think prime, paint and seal with exterior water-based products. Maybe use a real urethane for the seal.

Weather will always win in the end; it's a matter of how long you can delay it.


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Big fan of forced perspective.
If the facades are of buildings - large windows can help with wind.
In a parking lot - are there parking lot light pole bases you can bolt to? Also temporary light pole bases could be placed throughout and bolted to.
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I'm from California so there's definitely not as much wind here.
Agree with others that building it as a whole building gives you opportunity for more points of fastening and might allow for a more interesting route.
Thinking up the first row and a U turn down the second row which is the backside of the row 1's building. Also allows the possibility of interior lighting and audio with some protection from the elements.
I went to a drive through halloween event and they did a good job at making each scene offset from the previous and next so the surprise wasn't ruined as you drove through. Also kept people driving slowly because they had to steer through the zig-zag. Many of their scenes were bolted to shipping containers with some being spanned between 2 containers, shielding the view of the next set and having 1 crosspiece between to allow for better lighting angles, signage or just more decor to make you feel more immersed.

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