A look at how two visionary and distinct domains collaborate in the design of award-winning worship space.
"Sound exists in architecture and architecture exists in sound."
So begins a scholarly treatise* by three members of the University of Wroclaw, Poland, published in 2015 that examines the relationship between architecture and audio.
Not surprisingly, the tract makes considerable reference to the evolution of houses of worship, from the stone cathedrals of the Middle Age and the Renaissance to the shoebox theaters that became the model for many American Protestant churches from the 19th century on. All of these are critical to understanding how sound influenced architecture and vice versa for the last thousand years.
This relationship remains in place, often between church architects and AV systems integrators who work in the house of worship space. Here, a couple of award-winning architectural designs show some of the ways that architects and integrators continue to interact.Tackling Natural Light & Sound | Our Lady of Montserrat Chapel, Seattle, WA
Very often architects and AV specialists will work independently of each other, and that was the case at Our Lady of Montserrat Chapel, in Seattle, where architects from the firm Hennebery Eddy Architects Inc. of Portland, Ore., constructed a 1,600-square-foot worship space that can seat about 60 people and hold up to nearly 80 on the grounds of the campus of a Jesuit College Preparatory School. Aesthetically, the award-winning design—2015 Faith & Form/IFRAA Religious Art and Architecture Award (Religious Architecture, New Facilities)—blends an evocation of 17th-century American Southwest mission outposts with the warmth and simplicity of wood in modern Pacific Northwest architecture to create an open and inviting space. But even this compact of a space had sonic implications.
“Usually you’ll find [that a] chapel like this uses a lot of stained glass windows, which create a mood and provide some interior light,” explains Will Ives, the project manager for the firm. “However, here they wanted to be able to see a stand of trees out in front, to make them part of the interior feel, so they wanted a huge [fully transparent] glass wall on one side. That could have had implications for sound in the space.”
The school contracted separately with an AV integrator; in this case, locally based Jaymarc AV. However, the architects did bring in an acoustical consultant for the project during the rendering stage, Seattle-based Sparling (since acquired by Canadian firm Lynwood). Ives says the acousticians provided input about what kind and where to place acoustical treatments that would address the anticipated sonic reflections from the glass, stone, wood and other hard surfaces. He reports that the final results, which involved covering about 20% of the ceiling area with ¾-inch x 3¼-inch slats made from western hemlock (in keeping with the use of native materials) with ¾-inch acoustic reveals between them, and with absorptive panels installed underneath them, were intended to leave some liveliness in the space.
“The calculation was between keeping the space a bit more energetic than the baseline might have called for, but without sacrificing the speech intelligibility that’s required for worship services and other events held there,” Ives says.
During construction, the firm’s architects worked with integrators from Jaymarc AV, pointing out suggested speaker locations and input jacks on schematic drawings. Ives stresses that these locations could be adjusted as work progressed and they became more informed about the integrator’s equipment choices.
Mark Bellesiles, Jaymarc AV’s owner, says it’s not unusual for them as the AV contractor to collaborate with an architect using their common client as the go-between, as long as he has enough information to make the necessary calculations. In the case of Our Lady of Montserrat Chapel, the system was very basic—four JBL speakers flush-mounted and painted, connected to a system that included an amplifier, CD player, Biamp DSP mixer and a Shure single wireless microphone—but still required him knowing the basic layout of the project from the blueprints, and the relevant interior materials so he could predict acoustical interaction between the speakers and the venue.
“We would get the CAD drawings from the architect, and submittals and the shop drawings from the client, who got them from the architect,” he says. “Then we’d make our notes and send them back and get back a marked-up copy. If you’re an experienced [AV] contractor, then you have the expertise to work like that.”
That matches Ives’ recollection of the process on this project. “There was definitely some back and forth during that stage,” he says. “The integrator gave us information and we dialed that into our plans and adjusted them accordingly.” For instance, while most of the audio hardware (the project had no video aspect due to the small size of the room) was situated in a closet off of the main room, input jacks were placed in the room to allow easy access, but were installed underneath benches to keep them out of immediate view, to maintain the interior’s aesthetic integrity.
Ives says that the project turned out satisfactorily despite the fact that the architects and the integrators weren’t collaborating from the beginning. That was thanks to a client that understood that that collaboration had to take place at some point and was involved enough to help coordinate it during the design and construction processes. “That willingness to be involved and coordinate was what made the interaction between architecture and AV work as well as it did,” he concludes.Lone Star State AVL Solutions | RockPointe Church, Flower Mound, TX
Recipient of 2015 Faith&Form/IFRAA Design Award, the RockPointe Church campus in Flower Mound, Texas, originally consisted of a worship center, a classroom building and a multi-purpose hall. The church was rapidly outgrowing these spaces and having both pedestrian and vehicular circulation issues on-site.
RockPointe Church, Flower Mound, TX
Oglesby Greene Architects of Dallas worked with the church to determine future needs and projected growth, as well as to masterplan its site. The first phase of what would become a new 34,000-square-foot facility involved a new 1,000-seat worship center, administrative space, adult classrooms, and children’s/daycare classrooms. The building’s two main entrances open to a large lobby gathering area that features a wood ceiling and stone walls that are lit by the linear skylights at the perimeter of the space. In other words, the kind of space—filled with light and reflective surfaces—that AV needs to be cautious about.
Fort Worth-based Electro-Acoustics had been a vendor to the church in its original locations, with company president Chris Jordan helping them tune a problematic PA system there before recommending a new Meyer Sound M1D line-array system for that church, in anticipation of the new facility, where the sound system would be relocated, with some additional speakers to cover the larger space and a new Avid Venue FOH console.
“We felt that the Meyer system would translate well from one environment to the other,” says Jordan, noting that both systems’ designs were L-C-R configurations. “We only had to add a few more M1 [enclosures], some UP Juniors for fills, and we doubled the number of 600HP subs, to cover the new space.” The line arrays were also hung wider apart, to address the wider new space’s fan-shaped seating.
Church leaders brought the two companies together and the working relationship went smoothly from the beginning. The one major point of contention that arose, ironically, was between some factions within the church itself. In short, some members of the church’s AV team wanted the FOH position to be placed in the center of the room, on the main floor area, a flat plain in front of the large stage. Others saw that as an impediment to possible additional uses of the sanctuary space and called for putting the AV control positions elsewhere. That, others countered, could affect sightlines of seating behind the position.
“There were a number of stakeholders with different values,” says Jordan, diplomatically. Joe McCall, the principal at Oglesby Greene Architects who oversaw the project, says he and Jordan were in agreement that the FOH position could be placed off to one side, on the first tier above the front seating area. They believed this placement solved the issue of sightlines from behind it by consolidating all of the AVL control systems there, placing lighting control and video cameras on a platform just behind the audio console.
It didn’t necessarily please everyone, but it was a compromise solution that was created by the AV and architectural vendors working directly together, a serendipity that too rarely has the opportunity to occur.
Other areas of collaboration involved both video and lighting. Jordan says he and McCall discussed the pros and cons of using drop-down video screens vs. using a product like Screen Goo to use a wall as a projection surface instead. They agreed on using electrical drop-down screens, and collaborated further on screen heights and sizes. “We had to keep the interior and architectural aesthetics in mind with all of these AV decisions,” says McCall. “And we did.” (Jordan was also able to reuse two of the old church facility’s projectors for the two flanking screens, recommending a new Panasonic for increased brightness on the center screen to counter the natural light being let in by the glass. Some of the savings from that helped offset the cost of the Meyer sound system.)
When it came to lighting, McCall voiced his concerns that houses of worship increasingly lean more towards black-box theaters than traditional churches in that regard. The stage did end up with a fairly sophisticated lighting truss that includes moving-head fixtures, but the walls are softly color-washed using Philips Color Kinetics LED fixtures around the room, controlled by the same Strand controller used for the stage lighting.
“It gives the walls a richer finish, and it helps give a sense of continuity from the [exterior] stone walls to the worship space,” says McCall, who suggested the idea to Jordan. In fact, the two worked together on other areas in which AV exigencies met up with architectural mandates, such as with the acoustical clouds suspended above the seating areas and the acoustical panels on the rear walls. “The fabric and the colors are all architecturally integrated while their acoustical missions are not affected,” says McCall. “It would be great if that’s how life always worked.”
* “Sound & Architecture: Mutual Influence”