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Installation Profile: Intelligent Design

Feb 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney

How technology helps realize a thoroughly modern vision for the new home of one of our nation’s oldest museums.

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The range of systems and technologies used at the California Academy of Sciences is simply staggering. The rainforest environment spans four levels, from underwater Amazon River views in the basement up to the canopy (covering four different rainforests), via a curving walkway. The space is filled with the sounds of a field-recorded soundtrack by famed bio-acoustician Bernie Krause of Wild Sanctuary. The soundtrack is played through a dozen Tannoy Di5t loudspeakers on each level, with each loudspeaker group receiving its audio mix from a BBI MSC-4MP3 show controller to allow randomization and realtime fades. Playback is triggered by sensors.

In the very center of the academy's first floor is the piazza, which is essentially an all-glass multipurpose room. Audio comes via a Meyer Sound MVC-5 graduated vertical coverage fixed array.

“While it was important to get quality audio into every public space, it was equally critical to maintain the architect's vision,” Roos says.

In the piazza, that meant custom paint and special mounting for the loudspeakers. In other areas, it meant eliminating touchpanel wall controls. Balancing the conceptual vision of the designers in a seamless, yet highly functional way that appeals to both academy staff and visitors is exactly the sort of challenge that BBI Engineering craves.

“The California Academy of Sciences is a cultural landmark in San Francisco. In the museum business, the stakes are high. You have to open on time, and everything has to work,” Roos says. “We like to think we're the kind of company that can rise to that kind of challenge. If there's no space for a touchpanel on the wall, we can put it in your pocket. This was a great project because it gives us an opportunity to show our creativity as well as our technical chops. At the end, you really know you've accomplished something.”

Jack Kontney is contributing editor, audio for SVC and president of Kontney Communications, a content-creation, marketing, and PR firm specializing in professional audio, video, and electronics. He can be contacted at

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