The World’s first sensory meeting room

Hilton Bankside – 21st Century Meeting Room Inspiration 



A table, a few chairs, an off-white projector screen, two bottles of water and a pad to write on.  Sound familiarYep, another typical uninspiring meeting room devoid of creativity.  The only positive of note, a clock on the wall which you quickly work out means you can escape in six hours.  Tired of the conventional and recognising that busy delegates have seen it all before, the Hilton Bankside in London has turned a boring meeting space into one that is quite literally an assault on the senses.  Could this be the blue print for the future and form an integral part of your brief when looking for your next venue? Mark Bailey, meetingsclub’s Head of Content and Partnership couldn’t resit pressing the emergency creative button as he discovered that there’s now a real alternative to stimulating conversation and it’s not a dogeared flipchart either! 

Seen it all before?  Think again! 

Descending stairs in to a hotel basement, looking for a meeting room normally terrifies me.  No natural light cramped and stuffy, with ubiquitous curled up sandwiches completing the picture outside the door.  But one hotel appears to have seen the light and when you enter the Agora Suite it really is like entering a completely different world.  

Agora translated from Ancient Greek means ‘gathering place’. And arriving delegates are immediately greeted with mood-improving lighting installations, specially curated objects designed to increase productivity and a ‘creative button’ that when pushed sends a blast of scented air around the room.  In the corner an innovative tea and refreshment station recharges the batteries of weary executives whilst quirky jigsaw pieces are a nod to primary school days, enabling creative ideas to be placed pin board style on to mirrored walls for all to see! 

Bompas & Parr, experts in multi-sensory design took 12 months to complete this exciting project, due in no small part to their extensive research and the complex buildTheir aim simply to ensure every element was perfect and each detail based on the science and psychology of fruitful human interactions and innovation.”  And they’ve done it combining science, high-quality design, that all important functionality and a great sense of fun.  It’s claimed to be a world first and truly is an inspiring meeting room created to boost creativity and inspiration.  

You won’t be feeling blue for long… 

I was late, well just a couple of minutes but enough to be stressed and annoyed with myself. Cue the ‘blue mood light setting as I entered Agora.  On the giant screen a bespoke piece of immersive video art by Doug Foster had an immediate relaxing effect. The room was totally engulfed with calming blue light, a digital kaleidoscope and accompanying hypnotic music proving a real tonic and gentle scene setter.  Five minutes later and fully recharged I was interested to discover that blue is scientifically proven to arouse the brains subcortical area creating a feeling of calmness and tranquillity lowering pulse rates and body temperature.  It works!  

The use of colour psychology to enhance and influence mood is well known, witness the light changes now on Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft depending on which time zone you are travelling through.  Colour is a powerful communication tool and can be used to signal action and influence physiological reactions. Keynote presentation, brainstorming new ideas or a time to reflect? Simply adjust Agora’s different pre-programmed lighting environments and a variety of colours are available to reflect the content or style of your personal event. 

Back to nature – blowing hot and cold 

The calmness theme continues with warm earthy tones, comfortable deep green chairs and plants strategically positioned, making Agora far from a clinical meeting room. But the plants are not there just for show, improving the productivity of a meeting by 15%.  In a study published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology, psychologists confirmed that workers perform better when household plants are added to workspaces. On top of this, a Clean Air Study undertaken by NASA found plants were effective at removing ‘nasties’ such as benzene, formaldehyde and ammonia from the air – chemicals linked to health effects like headaches and eye irritation.  

The research Bompas & Parr have diligently undertaken is impressive. This extends through to selecting the right materials for construction and appreciating the importance of temperature to maximise productivity.  It’s been proven that natural materials such as wood and stone create a relaxed, slower paced environment. One explanation that may explain our comfort within more natural material is their quality to absorb and retain comfortable levels of heat. A study from Cornell University found that workers make more errors in cooler temperatures, finding that when the office temperature was raised from 20 to 25 degrees Celsius, typing errors decreased by 44% and typing output increased by 150%. The research concluded that the height of productivity is reached at 22 degrees Celsius.  

“Curiouser and Curiouser” 

Agora is all about creating an environment for creativity and thought.  My advice is not to dismiss it as some sort of strange curiosity shop, when your eyes fix on interesting objects, art and books.  They’re there to act as idea bouncing boards as well as for decorative purposes. Gazing over collections of objects can often generate ideas and discussion which may well have never occurred. And if you’re going to be a regular user of Agora and think you’ll be bored next time you come, Hilton Bankside have that covered as well.  Art pieces from a local gallery will be changed quarterly. There’s simply no getting away from the innovative attention to detail. But pride of place in the middle of the room must go to the custom-built table – the Crux of Creativity – featuring inlaid ley lines which point to important sites of creativity around the Bankside community including The Globe, The Tate, British Film Institute and Royal Festival Hall.    

It’s got to work and not just look good 

Design brilliance, aesthetics and the research behind them are all well and good, but meeting rooms need to function and work effectively particularly when it comes to technology. Don’t worry, Agora’s technology is intuitive, simple to use and stress-free.  No likelihood here of presenters scrabbling to find the right switch, USB port or connecting cable. The latest in interactive technology features a 75-inch screen allowing seamless, wireless connection and communication with delegates’ own devices.  Plus, the presentation screen also works as a digital whiteboard to capture creative comments with no need at the end of the day to type up 27 flip chart sheets.  

Play Time 

But Agora is not all about sitting down watching presenters, even if there is a lighting presentation mode ensuring groups staring at the screen for a long time don’t get tired. Scattered Ideas is a wall designed for delegates to pin creative outputs up directly using magnetic terrazzo (composite material) style pieces. We also really liked the ‘high tech’ recyclable roll of brown paper which immediately allows ideas to be jotted down and displayed in very much old school tradition.  And for those who like playing with brightly coloured pens the good news is that the wall can also be used as a whiteboard mirror to jot down notes mid-brainstorm or doodles which are known to increase attention and memory.  

More tea? 

On top of the normal food & beverage refreshments, a carefully devised menu of creative teas has been introduced giving Agora delegates a fun and stimulating alternative to stewed luke warm flask served coffee. The drinks choice is packed full of options to revive and restore including Fatigue Fighter, Revival of the Fittest and Relaxingly Alert.  As you’d expect, there’s science and health benefits behind the marketing brands. Brain boosting Bee Pollen (containing amino acids to increase dopamine and serotonin levels), Ginkgo (to increase blood circulation in the brain), Kelp (which contains folic acid to improve memory) and Brahmi (which helps regulate the balance of the mind).  More tea anyone? 

Bye-bye to graveyard slot sleeps 

All presenters hate the graveyard slot.  The time straight after lunch when delegates would rather be taking 40 winks than paying serious attention to what’s being said.  Well they’ve thought of that as well.  In the far corner of the Agora Suite sits an emergency Creativity Button to wake people up!  Once pressed, a jet pushes out scented cool air across the room with flavours including lemon oil (stimulating signals in the brain), peppermint (invigorating the mind) and cinnamon (research shows this enhances creativity). 

Fad or Future? 

It all sounds a little crazy, some might say gimmicky even.  But I for one having seen thousands of meeting and event rooms believe that what the Hilton Bankside have done is very clever indeed.  There’s clearly research and thinking to every single element of the Agora Suite, a true assault on the senses, there to foster more productive, creative and above all enjoyable meetings.  Praise to the innovative thinking of Bompas & Parr who have raised the bar when it comes to meeting room design and functionality.  The challenge to hotel and conference venues across the country is to take note and create spaces that help their customers get the best from their time onsite.  And to EAs, PAs, Event Managers and indeed anybody who books meeting spaces start asking for some or all of the Agora Suite features because it will only be by spreading the word and asking for these key features that drab, soulless meeting rooms are consigned to the events of history where they belong