A Vision Realized
Jan 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Jack Kontney
SouthLake Foursquare Church blends AV and architecture.
When the staff of Southlake Foursquare Church in suburban West Linn, Ore., decided to expand, it had a vision it was determined to realize. The new structure would be connected to the existing worship center, which would become the entryway and meeting center for the new sanctuary. Not only would the seating capacity double, but the church's audiovisual capabilities would also expand. The only question was whether the available technology would accommodate these goals within the project budget.
To help ensure that the physical building and the AV installation would work well together, SouthLake engaged two Oregon-based companies in key strategic roles. For design and construction, Eckelman & Company of Portland, Ore., was hired in a unique dual role: architect and general contractor. AGI (Anderson Group International) of Eugene, Ore., was selected to realize the church's audiovisual goals.
SouthLake Administrative Pastor David Harris was project manager for the expansion. “Our pastor, Kip Jacob, places a lot of emphasis on the audio and the video component of our worship time,” he says. “So that aspect of it was critical to how we moved forward with the design. That's why we thought it was important to bring AGI in early.”
AGI has considerable experience creating dramatic stage environments in the worship market. The firm's inhouse capabilities include specific expertise in audio, video, lighting, and acoustics. Founder and president Kyle Anderson notes, “The client was very wise in bringing us in way up front. That allowed us to speak to everything that makes a successful room, from all the AV design disciplines. What made it especially nice was that we got to work with the architect from the beginning of the project.”
At the outset, AGI gathered input from church volunteers, the worship team, and church leaders. Anderson explains, “We sit down with the worship team and senior staff and catch the vision of what they're doing now and where they want their ministry to go. Then we design along their vision, for them, and come back together and explain what's being proposed. We don't stop until we know we have something that fits what they're doing. It's a trademark of how we design.”
PRECISION AUDIO BY DESIGN
For its new worship center, SouthLake Foursquare Church wanted to create a musically superior room, both for its regular worship services and for concerts with professional musicians. Having architectural input in room acoustics made that a feasible goal.
The team selected the L-Acoustics dV-DOSC line array to provide the needed sound quality. A compact version of the company's signature V-DOSC system, this active two-way system combines the compactness and sonic superiority that the 800-seat room demands. For the house sound, two arrays of five speakers were hung from the catwalk, augmented by a pair of L-Acoustics SB218 subwoofers and four EAW UB52 compact two-way speakers for front fill. The subs are housed beneath the stage in concrete vaults designed to force the sound energy forward into the house. L-Acoustics LA-24a (2×1500W) and LA-48a (2×2300W) amplifiers supply power for all the house speakers. Anderson reports that matching the L-Acoustics amps and speakers proved to be an excellent choice. “The system has tons of headroom, so you don't have to worry about amplifier fatigue. And it sounds great.” Two BSS FDS-366T loudspeaker management systems provide processing for house and monitor systems. FOH mixing is handled by a 48-input Allen & Heath ML5000 console.
With its vaulted ceiling and reflective surfaces, the room demanded full, even coverage with as much energy kept off the walls as possible. L-Acoustics' Soundvision acoustical simulation software was key in accomplishing this. “I think I'm on my 15th design with it right now,” notes Anderson, “and there are some real niceties in this program. It gives you full control over individual hangs and speaker placement. You can change the angles, change the power, and map it either full-frequency or at specific frequencies. The results we saw from the physical hang mimic very well what we see in Soundvision, so you can actually get a real good idea of what's going on acoustically. It's an excellent program.”
At the other end of the audio chain is the stage, a raised platform measuring roughly 43'×35'×3'. The center-front area is used for the worship leader's sermons, announcements, and other activities. However, the vast majority of the space is dedicated to the SouthLake worship band, which includes percussion, guitars, bass, a Hammond B3 organ, electronic keyboards, a brass and woodwind section, and six to eight vocalists. Black Neumann KMS 105 condensers were selected for the vocalists. Of course, wireless systems are used for both the worship leader and the band. Sennheiser Evolution G2 500 systems are used for both bodypack and handheld applications, with up to eight systems running simultaneously.
To keep acoustic interference from the monitor system to a minimum, a combination of floor wedges and hardwired in-ear monitors is employed. L-Acoustics MTD 115b wedge speakers powered by Crown CTs 1200 amplifiers are augmented by six Aviom A-16II personal mixers feeding Shure E5 isolating earphones.
ARCHITECTURE MEETS AV
SouthLake uses a full range of visual media, including multi-screen projection, dramatically lit cyclotrons, and full stage lighting. The new space includes a catwalk, a unique feature in a church of this size. This provides the volunteer crew with access to the lights and projectors for easy setup and maintenance.
The catwalk was one area where having the architect acting as general contractor proved very beneficial. Gary Eckelman, president of Eckelman & Company, explains, “The catwalk was something we didn't have designed in the beginning. This thing's got a 70ft. span and weighs 18,000lbs., and it was quite a structural feat to get it accomplished. It's where they mount all their lighting and projectors and speakers, and it's part of the staging as well. So it works both architecturally, and technically for all the audio and video.”
There were additional architectural considerations during the construction. Steve Diamond of AGI worked with Eckelman to ensure that the physical room design would accommodate all the church's visual and audio needs. One major concern was the proposed use of glass walls, both because of unwanted audio reflections and the ambient light level.
To make the glass walls workable, Diamond and Eckelman agreed to splay them to avoid flutter echo and direct reflections to the stage. In addition, a combination of diffusive and absorptive treatments was used throughout the room to retain acoustical control. AGI designed and built proprietary acoustic treatment panels, which were used in combination with BAD (Binary Amplitude Diffsorber) panels from RPG. This created a balance of absorption and reflection across a broad frequency range, maintaining audio integrity in the face of control-resistant design element materials like the glass walls.
Asked to reflect on his design experience at SouthLake, Diamond states, “Our goal is to take the client's vision and put technical legging to that. In doing that, sometimes with the architect there is a butting of heads. With Gary Eckelman, there was not. We were able to work together to mold and shape his ideas into a highly functional facility. I am very pleased with the outcome. But more importantly, the client is extremely pleased.”
MEETING VISUAL DESIGN CHALLENGES
AGI's Jeff Weinkauf (video) and Kelly Baum (lighting) handled visual design chores for the project. This was one area in which the church had a specific vision in mind, with three large video screens forming a crescent overhead and the stage area surrounded with cyclorama panels for dramatic lighting effects. Both primary lighting and video projection were implemented from the catwalk.
For lighting and stage design, the catwalk was positioned to allow entrances both upstage and downstage, and was trimmed out with aluminum trussing, allowing cyclorama panels to be draped on it. The rear stage wall consists of a series of cyclorama panels ranging from 19ft. tall at the outside to 22ft. tall in the center. To help overcome the church's high ambient light level, 34 Color Command PAR/wash fixtures from High End Systems are used to paint the cycloramas, allowing near-instantaneous color changes. These are augmented by eight Vari-Lite VL1000 automated ellipsoidal spotlights. In the previous facility, the stage lighting was washed out during daytime service. As Baum notes, “You can't negate the fact that there's a lot of God's great light in the sky shining in. You just have to make it part of the show, part of the worship experience.”
SouthLake Media Director Shari Scherschel was focused on the video and lighting issues facing the new design. The video plan called for the ability to program each display's content independently, with an option to display a single panoramic image across all three screens. At the outset, it appeared that goal would be beyond the church's budget. Much to her surprise, Scherschel found exactly what she was looking for at Edirol's NAB booth. The company was doing a demo using three DV-7PR digital video presenter workstations. “They would take an image and put it up on the three screens. It had that panoramic look, like a hi-def, but it's actually normal resolution. As soon as we saw it, we knew it was definitely what we wanted to do. That's worked out really well for us.”
Another key product in the video design was the Sony AWSG500 Anycast Station live content producer. Slightly larger than a laptop, the Anycast is essentially a portable production suite (sans editor) designed for live shows. Key features include an internally segmented LCD screen (for instant video monitors), a video switcher, an audio mixer, and a streaming encoder/server. The Anycast also accommodates a wide variety of video and computer connections. “[It's] a really great tool, especially for the church market, where a lot of formats are being converged. And what's really unique about the Anycast is that it also has the ability to take multiple inputs and scale them up and down to a common output. It's all in one box, very nicely integrated, and it's portable. It's a fantastic device,” Weinkauf says.
Using the Anycast as a master production controller, Weinkauf specified a pair of Edirol LVS-400 analog switchers for controlling content on the side screens, which generally display motion background and live camera content, with song lyrics keyed on top. The motion background imagery is accessed from the three Edirol DV-7PR units that Scherschel saw at NAB, nonlinear playback devices that offer realtime content access. The three DV-7PR units are locked together via their touchscreen panels, keeping the video projection in sync on all three screens.
Three cameras are used to capture the services. With an eye to the future, SouthLake opted for a high-definition approach; the church's two new cameras are Sony HVRZ1U HDV camcorders. In addition, there is one legacy camera, a standard-definition Sony DSRPD170 camcorder. All three palm-sized units are tripod-mounted but set up to permit handheld operation when needed.
Sanyo PLC-XF60 projectors send 6500 ANSI lumens to a trio of 7.5'×10' Da-Lite Da-Snap fixed-frame projection screens. According to Weinkauf, the key feature of the Sanyo projectors is their durability. “That Sanyo projector is just a monster,” he states. “We put a piece of card stock over the intake filter of our demo unit and let it run for an hour. It didn't rise more than a few degrees, so we knew it was a very hardy projector.” Other features that appealed to Weinkauf as a designer included the projector's ability to do edge blending between screens, its side exhaust system, and the IP-based command and control system.
In addition to the primary video projection displays, full signal routing was required for other locations around the church, such as the Hub — the old sanctuary, now serving as a multipurpose meeting area. To meet this need, an Extron CrossPoint 450 Plus 1616 ultra-wideband 16×16 video matrix switcher was installed first. This unit acts as the system's nerve center, allowing video sources including cameras, PCs, and playback devices to be routed to any display with the push of a button. Next, to maintain signal integrity over the long cable run to the matrix, the Sanyo projector outputs were converted to a twisted pair by plugging each projector's VGA output into an Extron VTT001 transmitter with an RJ-45 output. From there, Extron's UTP23SF-4 skew-compensated Cat-5 cable runs to a matching VTR001 receiver, where it is converted back into VGA for insertion into the video matrix, eliminating issues of image ghosting caused by long VGA cable runs.
Another major concern for AGI was creating an environment that was user-friendly for the church's volunteer staff, yet offered as much flexibility and control as possible. To do this, every display device in the video system is run via an IP network controlled via a standard Internet browser. This includes the three projectors in the sanctuary as well as four 55in. Sanyo PLV-55WM1 widescreen LCD displays in the Hub multipurpose area. Each video device can be addressed by simply clicking on the desired browser tab, with each page offering the appropriate options for operation and programming.
INTEGRATED DESIGN SUCCEEDS
The SouthLake Foursquare Church project is most notable for its integration of architecture, AV design, and construction into a unified whole. Rather than working around each other, Eckelman & Company and AGI formed a cohesive problem-solving team. AGI provided much-needed input on how the church's physical structure could help meet its AV goals, while Eckelman's contracting role helped ensure that the actual construction remained true to his building design.
It's clear that this team approach paid dividends. “It's always better to work with the architect from the beginning, to help sculpt the room in a way that prevents problems. When people bring us in early like this, before the congregation has already fallen in love with the footprint of a new building, it's amazing the success we can set them up for,” Anderson says.
Gary Eckelman puts it this way: “The SouthLake project wasn't just a structure. The audiovisual was a key element. If you didn't acknowledge that and work [it] into the scheme of things, it could be a real disaster. I was very impressed with how AGI had experts in all the different AV areas, and the way they worked together as a team, with each player handling his own part. When you're both the contractor and architect, having that kind of input helps you anticipate what has to be integrated and implemented, so you can translate your architectural sense into the logistics of construction.”
The success of any project is, of course, measured by the customer's satisfaction with the outcome, and the SouthLake Foursquare Church installation is clearly a winner in that regard. Administrative Pastor Harris sums up the congregation's reaction: “The whole thing is just phenomenal in terms of the appearance, both the video and the stage lighting. The sound is great as well. It is very understandable but is also great in terms of the sound quality. When people walk into the new worship center for the first time, it's almost like they're awestruck.”
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