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Interview: Integration for architects

Ian McMurray 30 June 2010

In two fascinating sessions at this year’s CEDIA HTE, Steve Moore explored the world of AV integration for architects. Helping to make this technology more accessible has been an abiding theme for Moore, who established integrator SMC in 1993. He spoke to IE Residential about his involvement in this year’s CEDIA HTE and the state of the residential market.

Q: What were the main strands of your CEDIA HTE sessions and were you pleased with the response from attendees?

A: CEDIA has two CPDs for architects that were run at this year’s CEDIA HTE. The first one, ‘Designing Integrated Future-Ready Homes’, provides an overview of what is possible and is really there to help architects beef up their vocabulary so they are happy talking to tech-savvy clients. The second one, ‘Using Technology to Manage Energy in the Home’, looks at the use and management of energy, using the Code for Sustainable Homes as a platform for building architects’ knowledge. Both courses were well received and there has been a fair amount of follow-up from attendees.

Q: To what degree is the average mainstream architect aware of the demands and possibilities of more sophisticated AV integration?

A: I studied architecture at university and I have a lot of friends who are architects, and in general I think that most are more tech-savvy than one might imagine. They have a much greater understanding of servicing the building [in this way], although it does tend to be informed by their latest job. Their vocabulary isn’t bad, but their understanding of what is available can be limited by the mass of other considerations they have to deal with in daily life.

But I have been doing this for 20 years now, and there is no doubt that we are called in at an earlier stage than used to be the case. It’s more like Stage C or D, rather than immediately pre-construction. That’s good news for everybody as it means we are better able to provide value before the requirements [of any given project] diverge.

Q: Aside from CEDIA courses/presentations and other similar initiatives, what else can be done to expand architects’ understanding of AV?

A: As a company, SMC has been involved in a number of talking shops and is also about to get involved with the NLA [New London Architecture]. We also provide briefings for architects and developers – those at the high-end are always trying to incorporate the ‘next big thing’ to come along. All of this is informed by the basic idea that the architect has a vision of how a building will work, look and feel, and they don’t want [the AV installation] to affect either the aesthetic or functionality. And in some cases, they will be trying to enhance the building by the use of this technology.

Q: Are there any areas in which manufacturers have failed to address the needs of architects sufficiently?

A: I think there are two areas that they have been slow to address. Firstly, Europe: a lot of equipment comes from a North American architectural vernacular and doesn’t necessarily play out well in European buildings. Secondly, regulation: there are many compliance hurdles that architects have to sail over, and sometimes these are met with an ‘oh, I don’t know about that’ by manufacturers.

The situation is improving now [on both counts], although I still see some smaller companies not really understanding that people actually have to put this stuff into buildings!

Q: How is 2010 panning out for SMC?

A: To put the situation into context, we had to let five people go (from approx. 60) at the beginning of last year; we were trying to be functional grown-ups and see ourselves through the recession. Coming up to date, we have taken on seven or eight staff during the last few months, and are aiming to appoint another four or five. The last three months have seen record [levels of activity] for us, although not all of it has been in the UK. International work has grown in recent years and now accounts for approximately 30% of our revenue.

Q: In what ways is the integration business changing at present?

A: We have been around for a while now and we have got to the point where some clients have done three or four homes with us; somehow we have survived the Darwinism of the construction process! What’s interesting to note is that while they have taken many of the same key elements with them from house to house – lighting control, security – the audio and visual systems have tended to get more and more simple. Looking ahead, I think we are going to see more movement towards streaming and downloading with content coming from the cloud [the subject of a feature in the June 2010 issue of Installation Europe.]

In general terms, the CEDIA market is going to migrate to a service industry future on one side – ie. helping people with their technology design, specification, install and support – and selling playback on the other. The focus won’t be on the actual equipment so much as on the ways in which it interfaces with the building.

Steve Moore was talking to David Davies.

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