AV breathes new life into Saudi museums
One museum or a single outdoor sound and light show would be enough for some AV professionals. But what happens when you take on 16 museums and 20 shows on one site and
in the searing heat of Saudi Arabia? Anna Mitchell finds out.
North-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh sits Atturaif – once the seat of governance of the House of Saud. In 1818 the city was seized by the Ottomans and subsequently abandoned until 2007 when an ambitious project to restore the site into an engaging and educational visitor attraction commenced.
The ruins cover a staggering 58 acres, which have now been transformed into 16 museums and 20 outdoor multimedia shows. One of the aims of the restoration was to earn the city recognition as a Unesco World Heritage Site, a goal that was achieved in 2010.
As a result, there were strict stipulations on the development of Atturaif, and one of the crowning achievements has been to use projection to bring ruins to life without having to alter them physically in any way.
The project is overwhelming with a myriad of architectural, design, consultancy and integration firms involved. It’s hard to unpick, but the AV system design and installation effort largely comes back to Innovative Automation Design (IAD).
Robert Cole, the company’s CEO, first heard of the project in 2013.Cole takes up the story: “A contact of mine, John Brooks from Brooks-Flemming Associates, an engineering and project management firm out of Los Angeles, was working on a TV studio in Jeddah. A contractor there had been awarded the Atturaif project and asked John to come out and see it. That was in 2012.
“He took a look and realised the vast scale of the project and when he returned to the US he got Globecomm involved and from there built up a whole consortium of companies, of which we were one.
Goppion came into play with the case work and the furniture, Paul Bernhard Exhibit [Design and Consulting] did all the exhibit work. Alan Dupuy from Innovation was one of the main designers of the museology and also worked with our team for web and mobile application and development.
Virginia Curry and Richard Ellis (former FBI and Scotland Yard art experts, respectively) provided museology support. Local companies integral to the delivery of the project were Globecomm partner Althat Arabia and integrator Automation Control & Energy (ACE) Systems.“
The ACE team that delivered the project was Tony Sharp, project manager; Greg Quaderer, AV manager; Mohammed Zameer, lighting control department manager; Israr Khan, audio department manager and QSYS designer and programmer; Jack Ortega, video department manager; Zeeshan Kahn, network department manager; Sajjad Khan, electrical engineer; and Abrar Ali and Nesrin Abbara, commercial managers.”
When Cole started work on the project in 2015 the original design was by then five years old.“
There was quite a lot of redesign, and the site had already been reconstructed under Unesco guidelines. We were tasked with retrofitting all the AV and lighting across the 58-acre site, within 16 museums and setting up seven satellite shows,” he says.
Cable runs alone over a 58-acre site were a huge undertaking with Cole’s team building trenches for cables, all the while navigating the specific requirements that a Unesco World Heritage Site demanded. Around 90 Digital Projection projectors were installed, a videowall with 72 LG monitors was constructed and more than 300 loud speakers were deployed to create separate soundscapes across the site.
The outdoor location and extreme heat required special enclosures to be made for the projectors by Display Devices. If the installation already sounds daunting, add the Saudi weather, which in the summer regularly tops 40-degrees, and it was a major challenge.
The crowning achievement of an overwhelming project is the sound and light show focused on Salwa Palace, the original home of the Al-Saud royal family. An amphitheatre draws the audience in for shows that are played out on the walls of the remains of the royal building.
Content subtly transforms the ancient ruin to a living building again. It’s more abstract than realistic depictions of the rooms and spaces within the palace but in a dreamlike sequence shifts between designs that would have been seen on the Salwa Palace façade, to people engaged in activities within a reconstructed depiction of the palace.
The main sequence is rousing, with scenes of armies and battles. To achieve this 12 Digital Projection Insight Dual Laser4K 27,000 lumen projectors fire on to the palace ruins from two projector tower positions.
Show control is managed by a Medialon Showmaster Pro, now part of the 7th Sense family. Signal extension was handled by a Lightware DisplayPort extension system and 7thSense was selected for the 3D projection mapping, using the Infinity media server.
Audio is provided by Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers with left and right arrays of five Renkus-Heinz STLA/9R line array loudspeaker systems, coupled with DR1-2Rsubwoofers, per side.
The centre section of the amphitheatre is covered by three ST9-44 three-way mid/high loudspeaker systems. On each side of the venue, a single, Renkus-Heinz ICL-F-RN digitally steerable line array loudspeaker is installed in a surround position to provide additional rear fill or surround channels. A QSC I/O frame housed in a central rack manages audio inputs and outputs.
A Shure SLX wireless microphone system and Yamaha MGP12X 12-channelmixer were also deployed here. Lighting made use of 22 SGMQ-7 strobe lights, Martin lights and 21 Protues hybrid lights from Elation. Lighting control was handled by an MA2 grand MA2 replay unit.
With the vast scale of the site it was decided at an early stage that video playback would be local to the display to reduce complexity and minimise signal extension. Cole’s team deployed approximately 90 BrightsignXD233 digital signage players and 22 7thSense media servers encompassing Delta NanoR-1, NanoR-2 and Nucleus units as well as the flagship Infinity servers.
Network connections to each player in the field allows synchronisation between players producing frame-accurate playback on multiple display devices. The main sound and light show, as well as projections on the main defence wall used Rosendahl Mif4 timecode sync.
The network connection also provides remote access for scheduling, programming and content uploads from any location on the network.
QSC Acoustic Design loudspeakers and subwoofers were used throughout the site except for the Renkus-Heinz line arrays chosen for their IP rating and as a steerable system that provided the best coverage. QSCCX Series 70v amplifiers and Q-SYS networking and DSP were also chosen as the standard.
A networked site-wide AMX master control system, programmed by Ramez Audi from Venutech, includes a single control node in each server room. This handles control for the key parts of the system including DSP, projectors and playback devices.
It also monitors and feeds back system reports to help with maintenance and flag any problems. Control functions are accessed via a web browser. Cole’s team built the network for all AV, lighting control and AMX control system. It includes 15 Cisco WS-C3850-48T-S switches, 72 2960CX-8TC-L switches and 2 WS-C4506-Erouters.
There are 40 VLANs managing the site with a full asset management system that works with d-tools for service ticket deployment.
"We were tasked with retrofitting all the AV and lighting across the 58-acre site, within 16 museums and setting up seven satellite shows." - Robert Cole, IAD
A Lutron Quantum system was designed and installed to manage more than 20,000 fixtures throughout the site. This includes phase adaptive dimming, switch control, DMX and Dali. The Lutron system interacts with the exhibit lighting in many areas.
The Salwa Palace covers an area of around 5,000 square metres and is packed with LCDs, touchscreens, projection and soundscapes.
LCDs are units ranging from 10-in to 22-in from i-Tech Company; some have touch capability. In one exhibit the LCDs are paired with SoundStik audio headsets from Vista Group.
Where required Gefen EXT-HD-KVM-LAN extender pairs are deployed. All interactive exhibits use Dell servers. Digital Projection iVision projectors were used, firing on to holographic RP film by Glimm Screens International in The Pact exhibit, and a Da-Lite DaSnap screen in a reconstruction of Salwa Palace.
As previously mentioned, audio needs for the entire site are largely met by QSC kit. However, in the soundscape for an exhibit called How We Used to Live the QSC technology is supported by two Panphonics Sound Showers.
The Al Ajrab exhibit uses a nine-screen videowall made up of 46-in NEC displays, mounted with an NEC videowall mounting kit.
Technology is also used to bring the walkways of the Salwa Palace to life with Digital Projection iVision projectors and soundscapes used to deliver immersive effects.
Entering the visitor’s centre, guests are greeted by a massive videowall made up of 72 LG 47-in ultra-narrow bezel panels in a 3 x24 configuration mounted with Premier Mounts LMV brackets.
Content is fed from six 7thSense Infinity media servers outputting three UHD signals to three Datapath Fx4D DisplayPort to HDMI image processors.
There are two more videowalls, in nine by nine and three by three configurations, built with the same technology but to a smaller scale.
QSC handles audio in the area, while interactive i-Tech displays below the main videowall can be used on their own or to feed content to the huge media wall. The Museum of the Treasury (known as Biet Al Maal) boasts more exhibits. Following a similar approach to exhibits at the Salwa Palace, i-Tech Company LCDs were used as well as QSC powered soundscapes.
In a small departure, one three-screen exhibit sources audio for each screen directly from the local Brightsign players. Here RDL ST-PA6 amplifiers and Aurasound speakers were used.
A more powerful Digital Projection E-Vision Laser 8500 projector was used and in one exhibit a Museum Technology BB-200 motion sensor was installed to trigger audio playback. The technology template remains largely similar across a staggering number of exhibits in the other museums.
At times Planar 27-in LCDs are used as well as the i-Tech Company smaller screens. SunBrite sunlight readable screens were deployed where required.
Smells add to the atmosphere at the Daily Life museum courtesy of ScentAir Scentwave aroma dispensers with built-in motion sensors.
At the Arabian Horse Museum Barco projectors were selected for the Horse Table. Two Barco F90-4K13 projectors are coupled with a PQ Labs touch overlay for the interactive exhibit.
In addition to the Salwa Palace sound and light show an army of Digital Projection units were deployed to tell stories on many other parts of the site.
The courtyard for the Abdullah Palace uses six Digital Projection Highlite Laser 13K projectors to create six blended images projected on the walls. Thirty-nine more of these projectors are deployed for the defence walls and three for the Faisal Tower.
“This site has a lot of meaning behind it,” says Cole. “The project was started by King Salman back when he was the governor of Riyadh. Right by the site is his farmhouse. Farmhouse is maybe slightly misleading, this is a grand residence.”
Cole’s point is that aside from the challenges the technical demands, harsh environment and sheer scale of the site pose, it is the significance of the unique place of historical importance to the local Saudi people that ultimately put the greatest pressure on delivering the project successfully and sensitively.
QSC amplifiers,loudspeakers, subwoofers and Q-SYS platform
RDL ST-PA6 amplifiers
Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers and subwoofers
Vista Group SoundStik headsets
AMX control system
Museum Technology motion sensors
Rosendahl Mif4 timecode sync
Elation Protues hybrid lights
Lutron Quantum system and lights
MA2 grandMA2replay unit
Martin Lighting lights
SGM Q-7 strobe lights
7thSense media servers and Medialon show control
Da-Lite DaSnap screens
Datapath Fx4 display controllers
Digital Projection projectors
Display Devices projector enclosures
Gefen KVM extenders
Glimm Screens International holographic RP film
i-Tech Company 22-in LCDs
Lightware DisplayPort extension system
NEC 46-in displays and mounting kit
Planar 27-in LCDs
PQ Labs touch overlay
Premier Mounts LMV mounts