Posted in practice on June 12, 2015 5:22 pm EDT

Creating Harmony

Architects must view audio-visual systems as an outgrowth of vision.

Image courtesy of Jeff Clare.











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TAGS: architecture, audio, business, design, sustainability, video,


By Chuck Hulstrand

Installing an audiovisual system for a worship center? Wrestling with speaker arrays, LED lighting, or the proper number of plasma screens?

It’s not about what kind of loudspeaker system you choose. Really, it’s not.

It’s about finding the delicate balance to support the diverse needs of your space, your worship style, and your people. It’s rarely as straightforward as it sounds; most congregations have spaces that support a wide variety of uses, and a one-size-fits-all approach to AVL systems simply does not exist.

"When the AVL design translates into genuine engagement, the investment in technology is an investment in people."

—Church Hultstrand, AIA, LEED Green Associate, Vice President, Principal, Design eader, LS3P

When planning for AVL design, for example, music is an obvious jumping-off point for discussion. Will your service feature a traditional choir, or a band? Different styles of music require different types of amplification, but these must also be balanced with congregational singing so that worshippers don’t feel lost in a sea of sound. Amplification of music must be balanced with the very different sound mixing needs for amplified speech to ensure that sermons are as audible as the music.

Digital screens and multimedia displays can enhance the worship experience and make it easier for everyone to see the speaker in a large space; however, some congregations will prefer an approach which maintains a focus on the speaker alone. Contemporary churches may feel that a theater-quality AVL system supports a more engaging worship service; traditional congregations may feel that too many “bells and whistles” will dilute the speaker’s message. The right strategy for your church project may lie somewhere in between.

Evolution in Worship, and as an Architect

Evolving technologies have facilitated another fundamental shift in the way we worship. Satellite churches, which are often connected to a central church broadcasting elements of the worship service to multiple locations, require professional-quality AVL equipment to record and distribute the worship experience to remote sites. This strategy allows a church to share resources with a wider audience and create a more unified worship experience for its members, though it creates another question of balance. Does the service, and all its associated technologies, focus first on the experience of those in the room? Or on those experiencing a televised broadcast? How does a church effectively balance the needs of both audiences?

Image courtesy of LS3P.

Every church operates under limited resources, which begs the most difficult question: how much of a church’s budget should be allocated for the equipment, maintenance, operation, training, and staff hours required by a complex AVL system, when we live in a world with so many in need? How do we balance internal needs with external outreach? Indeed, the AVL budget for a new construction project can easily reach 20% of the project cost. Does this significant expenditure in a church’s internal infrastructure offer a commensurate return on the investment?

For churches whose AVL technologies are allowing them to connect with a wide, diverse, and expanding audience, the answer is a resounding “yes.” The ability to share a vibrant worship experience with an onsite congregation, distribute broadcasts across multiple satellite campuses, and reach a potentially limitless group of worshippers via the Internet opens up real possibilities for growth, community, and outreach that is not constrained by geography. When the AVL design translates into genuine engagement, the investment in technology is an investment in people.

Firsthand Knowledge

Nathan Daniel, AIA, LEED AP is an associate principal and project manager in LS3P’s Charlotte, N.C., office, and has experienced every stage of the decision-making process firsthand. “For the AVL and building design to be cohesive and intentional, the process must be an integral one,” Daniels explains. “AVL in contemporary churches today is definitely intensifying, and this scope takes up a substantial piece of the project's total budget. The room design, structural rigging, HVAC strategy, electrical support, and acoustical design are all critical to its success.”

Having worked with complex projects involving large multisite churches, Daniel has learned that effective team communication is directly related to project success. “Design team meetings with the AVL staff and the owner upfront will give everyone the opportunity to address the big idea, challenges, opportunities, budget and the schedule,” he tells us. “Once everyone on the team has bought into these ideas, roles are defined, communication continues, and the process works.”

In this area, as in all other important discussions, the strategies for each congregation will be different, and that is a good thing. AVL experts and designers can help with the technology, but the real work is in defining the church’s ultimate vision. This process of finding the right balance is certain to provide some interesting challenges, but will also lead to a worship experience that expresses a church’s unique character.





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