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A decade ago, at the beginning stages of the design process, it wasn't unlikely that the role of the AV consultant was the last thing on an architect's mind. Yet as today's competitive clients aim to keep pace with the speed of the market and technology continues to drive space use and design, quite the opposite is true.

A decade ago, at the beginning stages of the design process, it wasn't unlikely that the role of the AV consultant was the last thing on an architect's mind. Yet as today's competitive clients aim to keep pace with the speed of the market and technology continues to drive space use and design, quite the opposite is true. Architects are quickly realizing the value an AV designer can bring to a project's life cycle.

Still, while the worlds of architecture and AV design have undoubtedly grown closer in recent years, it remains the case that these two design disciplines have very different ways of thinking. Considering that fact, here's a look at how architects and AV designers can collaborate successfully — and why they should.

GETTING INVOLVED

First and foremost, it is important that architects involve the AV team in a project as early as possible. While it has its difficulties, dealing with the financial, political, land-use, and other non-design challenges that arise at the start of a project is a process that also fosters a sense of project ownership and investment among members of the design team. AV experts should take part in that camaraderie and gain an understanding of the initial issues that may influence a project's design.

From a design standpoint, the early presence of an AV team can help architects visualize how a scheme will need to accommodate a client's desired AV system — a measure that can prevent the headaches caused by the need to retrofit and redetail later in the design process.

An open flow of communication should be established as soon as AV designers enter a project and should remain in place throughout the design process. The immediate goal should be to ensure that both disciplines are on the same page with project goals, expectations, and opportunities as they relate to both architecture and AV systems.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION

It's obvious that architects and AV designers must rely on each other to implement a project. Still, it is likely the two disciplines — which, in some ways, are as similar as apples and oranges — will come into conflict at some point.

For a recurring driver of conflict, look no further than the timeless cliché of function versus form. The AV designer might think a massive projection screen is the most exciting thing in the world, whereas the architect may be appalled at how that same screen doesn't vibe with a room's spatial proportions. To resolve that conflict, it is important that both sides not lose sight of project goals and communicate openly to reach a solution that will work within those goals.

The ability for architects and AV designers to reconcile their different ways of thinking is especially challenging when working with independent AV consultants. When the architect is the AV designer's client, the AV designer is operating at a distance from the architect's client and has a different entity and reputation to support. While it's not always the case, those types of situations are more likely to cause architects and AV designers to disagree not only on various design elements, but also on a project's goals, budget, and schedule.

One potential solution for an architectural firm is to bring AV in-house. It's a tactic that makes sense — architects and AV designers are more likely to understand and respect each other when they can interact on a daily and even hourly basis. With in-house AV, coordination can take place on a more organic level — by simply walking up to someone's desk, waiting for the elevator, or grabbing a cup of coffee. In turn, clients can benefit from a cohesive team that is more likely to deliver innovative and seamless design solutions.

Finally, in-house or independent status aside, an additional issue that can affect the nature of the architect-AV designer collaboration is quality of documentation. A harmonious relationship is much more likely to result when AV professionals are able to design using software platforms that are standard in the architectural world, such as AutoCAD and BIM. It also helps if AV systems are drawn using standard architectural symbols, with written specifications that follow CSI and MasterFormat guidelines.

DYNAMIC RESULTS

A well-coordinated, mutually respectful architecture-AV team is capable of creating more seamless, innovative, and flexible environments that meet a client's bottom line.

By reconciling — and even embracing — our different ways of thinking, a successful cross-pollination between architects and AV designers can create “transparent technology” in the form of more reliable systems that function seamlessly without concern from their users. The resulting, holistic integration of technology and space design maximizes end-user benefit by ensuring that spaces are designed to accommodate built-in AV systems.

Among other things, the two disciplines should work to ensure that cables, outlets, and other unsightly elements of AV equipment are sensitively concealed and that proper proportions and appropriate viewing angles and distances for AV displays are in place. Working with engineers, interior designers, and other core design disciplines at an early point in the design process can also ensure that spaces and systems are designed to meet mechanical and electrical requirements and that sound and lighting infrastructure works to enhance the experience of both the space and its technology.

From a functional standpoint, the AV team can ensure that a space is equipped with state-of-the-art technology that meets a client's needs now and into the future, and the architectural team can help to ensure that technology is accessible and user-friendly. While this process sounds like it's easier said than done — and sometimes it is — it's a process that can help guarantee spaces that are not only useable, but can accommodate change.

THE BOTTOM LINE

While early involvement and communication are an ideal first step, the architect-AV designer relationship is ultimately contingent on the level of understanding and respect each discipline has for the work of the other. As demand for smarter, more technologically sophisticated spaces continues to skyrocket, the respect and understanding that fosters successful collaboration won't simply be an option but a requirement.

William McCarthy is a vice president with RTKL Associates, an international architecture, engineering, and planning firm based in Baltimore. He can be reached at bmccarthy@rtkl.com.



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