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Specialists in Boat AV Take Their Expertise to Land

Challenge: Within a tight budget, create a multimedia experience for a French cultural center that doesn't have AV experts on staff.

CHALLENGE: Within a tight budget, create a multimedia experience for a French cultural center that doesn't have AV experts on staff.

SOLUTION: Utilize management skills learned working on ships and hand the user a complete control system.

Spanish language and Cuban culture dominate the sidewalks along the world-famous Calle Ocho in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood. But tucked away on the avenue's east end is a place Francophiles call their own: The Alliance Francaise de Miami, an old printing warehouse transformed into a French cultural center by architectural firm HOK and Coral Gables, Fla. based general contractor Mc Gowan Builders.

The Alliance Francaise offers language and cooking classes, art exhibits, film festivals, and a host of other activities. "The backbone of our activity is the teaching of French," says Philippe Timon, executive director at Alliance Francaise. "We wanted to be able to play the tapes and the DVDs we use for the French classes." Simple enough, but he also wanted students to have a high quality AV system, access to French television channels, and more. However, the Alliance had little money to put toward a new AV system–a mere $120,000 total–and it was having difficulties finding one company that could do the AV, IT, and telephone work.

Credit: Courtesy Wilk Marketing Communications

The French Connection

A chance meeting at a trade show between Serge Papiernik, president of the Alliance Francaise, and Thierry Sparfel, president of TechnoSystems, solved the AV problems. "Thierry is French as well, so they started talking," says Amir Stamper, TechnoSystems' director of marketing. Papiernik told Sparfel about the project, and TechnoSystems was up to the task, plus it provided a change of scenery from the Hileah, Fla. based company's usual installation work on cruise ships.

The project's time line was also a welcome change. At times, TechnoSystems installs major seaworthy AV systems in a matter of days. With ships, Stamper explains, every day spent in dry-dock for maintenance and repairs is money lost, so the company has learned to do a lot in a little time. But in the case of Alliance Francaise, according to Stamper, the company had a few months to complete the AV installation in 11 classrooms, a lobby, and a multipurpose room.

TechnoSystems' cruise-ship installation experience proved an asset in the planning process. "We spend more time on the design and logistics parts of the project to make sure our technicians are in the best position possible to install a winning system quickly and efficiently," Stamper says. And fortunately, the company was brought in early enough on the Alliance Francaise job to make small revisions to the construction plan–such as wall holes for subwoofers and specific locations for light fixtures–and to pull cable so it would be discretely hidden behind the walls, reinforcing the clean, modern look of the architecture. "[The building] was gutted down to the very shell," says Aidan McConville, vice president of Mc Gowan Builders. "Even some of the concrete was ripped out, so it was pretty much new build. That left us in great shape to be able to accommodate all the new mechanical services that the building required."

For example, two Bose Panaray MB4 subwoofers were to be installed in the building's multipurpose room, but the room's walls turned out to be firewalls. "We told [the general contractor] to draw the dimensions of the subwoofers, give them an extra cushion, and told them how to build a fire-stomping box behind the subwoofers," explains Stamper.

Acoustic Melange

The heaviest concentration of AV equipment is in the 200-seat multipurpose room. Here, the Alliance holds everything–French cooking classes, art exhibits, and grand galas. "We wanted to have very high quality sound system with not only the ability to play music and movies, but also for lectures and presentations of all kinds," says Timon. "It's a little bit of a parlay on a project we did for a cruise ship, where we created a multipurpose room whose primary purpose was a culinary theater, but it's also used as a movie theater, a chapel, and for port lecturing," Stamper explains.

TechnoSystems took advantage of the fact this project was on land to work closely with manufacturers Bose and Crestron. "On land, you get a lot more time to buy things, to get them, to prepare, to test. And because we got involved early, we worked with some of the manufacturers to help with the design," he says. "Most [dry-dock] facilities are not in the U.S. there is no Radio Shack to bail us out if we forget a connector. We're used to being self contained."

Because the Alliance does not have an AV technician, it wanted an easy-to-operate system, Timon says. The Crestron TPS-1700 touch panel–part of the MP2E-PAK-TPS-1700 AV control package–fit the bill. Two Audio-Technica ATW-2110 wireless receiver and transmitter sets and two Audio-Technica ATW-2120 wireless receiver and handheld microphone sets are available for live presentations.

Three Bose Panaray 402II loudspeakers provide audio for the front center, right, and left channels of the multipurpose room, while three Bose FreeSpace DS100SEs cover the rear right and left channels. Bose technicians used the company's Modeler software to accurately place the loudspeakers and refine the sound without acoustic treatments or echo-cancelling, despite the room's tall cement ceiling. An Extron MMX 32 VGA A matrix switcher, QSC ISA500i amplifiers, and a Soundcraft Spirit Folio FX16 sound board support the system. Other audio sources include an ID-AL SP603 rack-mounted 80GB HDD MP3 player and a Teac PD-D2610 CD changer.

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