Architects take a 'space ﬁrst' approach
The relationship between AV and architecture has not always run smoothly. Why is this, will it change, and what can we do to make things better in the future? Paul Milligan ﬁnds out.
Architecture is all about feel, design and ‘the space’, AV is about technology, function and ‘the show’. These two schools of thought and working processes can come to loggerheads, and because of this, the relationship between architects and AV consultants and integrators hasn’t always been the most harmonious one. As technology becomes ever more ingrained in our working lives, architects and integrators/consultants have to work together more than ever before. Is the relationship as fractious as it is sometimes painted to be, or are there signs things are improving?
Paul Andrew, director from Blend Technology Consultants, says: “Architects generally appreciate that AV has become increasingly important in a lot of these projects. When consultants and integrators approach projects in a collaborative and facilitative way and go to the architect with good information the relationship works well, and they are generally very responsive.” Julian Phillips, executive vice president at integrator Whitlock isn’t as positive however: “The relationship hasn’t moved on. We still have a disconnected process, from a space design perspective. Architects are taking a ‘space ﬁrst’ design principle and often, technology is still considered to be the bit you tag on at the end.”
No one we spoke to reported any serious acrimony between integrators/consultants and architects and Felix Robinson, VP of enterprise accounts at integrator AVI-SPL, was typical of those we canvassed: “Conﬂict isn’t how I would describe the relationship. The architect wants to satisfy the owners’ desire for both design and schedule. If that process proceeds and doesn’t come to a ﬁnal decision early enough in the project it will compress the schedule so that at the point the integrator gets involved they will have a very challenging process ahead of them.”
If integrators and consultants are only brought into the project late on, it creates a raft of problems. Sometimes the architect’s involvement is three or four steps back from this point, and the integrator isn’t able to talk directly to the architect, as those tasked with delivering the building (building contractors) are now in charge.
So what are the common architectural issues you come up against as an AV integrator or consultant? “Architects love glass,” says Phillips.“Part of the way to create the illusion of space is to use glass partitions, and glass is no friend of video or audio.” Robinson also hit on a similar theme, sometimes architecture works directly against the AV being installed: “The acoustical environment can radically affect the success of a technology system involved. Large format video is a light source, so when the content is bright and startling, it can also emit light in different ways that can reﬂect from surfaces.”
Cabling was also a major issue between architects and AV he added, “When technology is involved in a building everything is not wireless, and there’s quite a bit of structured cabling involved, so conduit pathways need to be accommodated, and that can be very challenging. We are often working through a raised ﬂoor, which is a space below the ﬂoor which allows cables to be passed along it. That is a very practical way to provide access, but not many architects are going to provide that willingly, when that 14- or 18-in space is sometimes needed for other architectural elements.”
Blend’s Andrew feels the major challenge is down to the way the project is structured, and it’s here that the issue of getting involved early on in the project rears its head again: “Things like furniture, joinery etc are not considered until quite late on in the project, so sometimes that can be an issue in terms of how AV is co-ordinated. The other one is the push-and-pull between the architect’s aesthetic vision and the needs to integrate the type of technology you have chosen.”
Julian Phillips feels it is down to the consultants, who are often involved in the project before the integrator, to be more forceful. “There’s also another challenge, and this is where some of the more traditional AV consultants aren’t being aggressive enough, when AV is required, how are you going to design the infrastructure that is best able to position AV functionality into the meeting space without necessarily having to have the technology in the meeting space?
"One of the trends we are seeing, take Biamp’s networked audio or Crestron’s DigitalMedia for example, we now have the ability to build a technology farm you can centrally locate in a building, and provide that functionality to the meeting space without having to put a rack or any signiﬁcant infrastructure into the room. This is a perfect example of why the technology people should talk to the architects at the beginning of the process, because they could save signiﬁcant space and maximise the utilisation of the space by not having to build AV closets or credenza spaces. Getting into those meetings early isn’t just so we as integrators can sell more kit, it can actually save the organisation signiﬁcant amounts of money by advising on how we can better use space and still create a better outcome when the technology is concerned.”
Architects are the ones with the ‘vision’ in a new build project, and as mentioned before are involved in projects much earlier than those dealing with AV. With that in mind will the desire of those in charge of technology always play second ﬁddle to the architectural aesthetic? The answer is a resounding yes according to Robinson. “It will, by the nature of the food chain, because the architect is the creative part of this process, and the integrators or consultants are often the practical part of that team.”
Robinson notes that 3D modelling is an essential part of his company’s engineering process. It wasn’t too long ago that BIM (Building Information Modelling) was being touted as playing a huge part in the future of AV, but things have gone a bit quiet in the last 12 months. “I think we are in an interim phase with BIM,” says Andrew.
“It’s being used in some projects but doesn’t seem to be used across the board. It’s being used as a planning tool for architectural and mechanical and electrical special coordination and less for the nuts and bolts of AV and technology. I do believe momentum is moving towards BIM, once the construction industry fully gets into gear with BIM, then the AV industry will have to follow suite.” AVI-SPL has embraced BIM says Robinson.
“Modelling the environment becomes the goal to visualise everything, so you can have everything considered in ﬁnalising the design.” One aspect that was much talked about in 2015 in the AV industry was the rise of the huddle space, and this could play a big part in the relationship between architects and AV. Why?
Because it will force architects to think differently says Phillips. “If you are an architect you have to break away from thinking ‘I just have ofﬁce space and I have meeting rooms’. It’s a different consideration: ‘I have environments where I want to encourage people to come together and collaborate.’ That is the language that businesses are using right now.”
Andrew thinks the rise of the huddle space will play a major factor in architecture and AV becoming much more intertwined. “There is a much closer tie now with AV technology in spaces that aren’t just traditional meeting rooms. That means that you need to spend a lot more time with the architect to make sure those places are designed well.” That change may also be aided by architect’s clients says Robinson. “Changes to architectural design can sometimes be inspired by clients demanding technology is included in the design of the building, which is important for our role.”