Meet Your Future Partner
What do architects think about collaborating more deeply with AV consultants and integrators? We went straight to the source and heard positive feedback.
CREATING A VISION
Architects and AV pros say that before a project program is developed, clients benefit from "blue-sky thinking" about what could be, not just what is. "We start with user-group meetings to brainstorm the vision for the building," Cordes says. "Once established, our team meets regularly with the technology designer to realize the vision."
Developing a design and actually constructing a significant project can take 18 to 36 months or more. In that time, technology applications will likely go through at least one full generation of capabilities (and come out less expensive in the end). The only way to allow for this inevitable change is to help the building's owner look beyond their current applications to what's likely to be available at the time of occupancy and through the first several years using the facility. Micro-fine LED displays, high-bandwidth wireless networking, full-featured smartphones and tablet computers were science fiction less than two decades ago. Holographic imaging, flexible flat-screens, haptic (force-generating) controls are quickly moving from Hollywood's imagination to the boardroom. Clients notice cool technology all around them and want it where they work.
"We're no longer interested in just seeing how the AV is connected, or the mechanisms, or the devices," says Hraztan Zeitlian, AIA, LEED AP, and principal for DLR Group WWCOT inSanta Monica, Calif. "We're interested in seeing the amazing effects and impact of seamlessly integrated AV systems." In other words, when working with architects, there are AV companies that need to change their focus from the systems they could integrate (videoconferencing codecs, sound reinforcement) to the experience the building's users want to have. "If your goal is to sell the latest technology, that's not a needs-based approach," says RTKL's McCarthy.
Similar to the master-planning process, creating a technology plan helps anticipate new applications that supplant existing systems. Scheduling a visioning session before a project starts can open the eyes of building owners and occupants to new possibilities. "Infrastructure for future technology must be explored," Cordes says. "Technology is constantly evolving and the only way to keep up is to imagine the possibilities."
Comparing up-front costs versus life-cycle costs can, for example, lead clients to invest in newer technology that provides higher productivity and collaboration. But even after a useful visioning session, some potential AV systems may not be economically or technically viable. The building design should still include infrastructure to accommodate future systems in a flexible and cost-effective manner–a point the AV professional can help drive home.
The best investment any building designer can make is in a robust technology foundation. This would include cable pathways (in above-ceiling trays or underfloor ducts), provisions for fiber-optic cabling to desktops and rooms, structural and electrical support in walls and ceilings for display devices, adequate power and grounding systems to prevent interference, and programmatic consideration for server and data distribution throughout a building. It should also take into account oft-overlooked technology support spaces, like the area needed behind a rear-projection videowall, if one or more are desired.
The problem is, architects don't always know what they don't know. They know sight lines are important, for instance. They know viewing angles and acoustical performance can impact their clients' utilization of a classroom, auditorium, or meeting facility. Many even know the basic AV technologies required. But they often need someone to alert them to what they may not have taken into account.
"Increasingly, AV systems are an essential part of our learning environments," says Jay Bond, AIA, associate vice president for facility management at California State University Fullerton. "Early and frequent communication and coordination among the faculty users, architects, engineers, facility managers, campus IT managers, and the AV consultants is essential if expectations are to be met. The AV consultant can play a crucial role in ensuring that the right questions get asked at the right time, and that the proper answers are provided."