“Weak currents”

As I was reading Justin’s case study reminded me just how important it is for audio-visual consultants to be involved in a project from the word go. When this is not case things can get very interesting. Here’s a story from my life as a designer.

A rich benefactor has a vision – to build a really wonderful concert hall. He gets together a bunch of wise men and women to realise his dream. Architects, acousticians, structural engineers, electrical engineers and HVAC specialists.

But wait says the patron, let’s also put on operas, and show films, and theatre, and let’s make some money by holding conferences. All great ideas! The design team look worried at first, but soon they are rubbing their hands and looking forward to putting their grandchildren through college on the back of this project…

As the last concrete is poured, the electrical engineer mutters something about “weak currents”. Sounds like a minor detail. But indeed,  there is some infrastructure needed that no-one has thought about. Those “weak currents” that carry the audio, video, lighting control, comms in fact everything needed to make the building fulfill its proposed function. About time isn’t it to bring in the “weak currents” guys?

Nothing like the last minute for the audio-visual designer. And somehow he’s expected to equip the building with state-of-the-art systems when no-one else on the team has given a moment’s thought to providing space for equipment, control rooms, cable paths, places to mount lights etc. etc.

A familiar scenario? Let’s look at the impact of this awful decision.

weak currentsControl rooms with no access to backstage areas. So a shabby-looking technician has to elbow his way through the foyer crammed with well-dressed paying audience. Not good.

What about interpreter booths for those conferences? We’ll squeeze them in somewhere. Aren’t there standards for these?

To get light onto the stage you need at least some holes in the ceiling to poke the luminaire through. Did the acoustician think about that? Now we’re in a bargaining exercise for each and every lighting position.

Sight-lines? Not good for films if you can’t see the screen. Key-stoning? What’s that? Big projectors are kind of bulky and produce quite a bit of heat. Any air-con in those minuscule control rooms? No, let the technicians have a free sauna.

Who needs cable paths? Isn’t everything wireless these days? Anyone think that some signals don’t travel well so you can’t route them all the way around the building? That’s assuming that a path can be found. In an earthquake zone structural engineering is a serious business. Each hole needs the building to be re-calculated. Not to mention the cost of drilling through 1 metre thick reinforced concrete.

All in all a recipe for a massive budget overrun and a permanently unsatisfactory result. So it’s good to see some projects like Justin’s getting it right.

When you’re building a new venue of any kind get the “weak currents” people on board right away. They’ll save your project.

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