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Opinion – the bridge between architecture and technology

Andrew Brister 30 April 2010
Opinion - the bridge between architecture and technology

Little is being done to educate architects about the growing availability of technical audio visual and lighting systems in a variety of building types. So says Roger Fox, partner of theatre design consultancy Theatreplan, who thinks that this newsletter could play a valuable role in this process.

The arrival on the scene of this newsletter fits an important piece into a knowledge jigsaw that I have been contemplating for some years. There is a general impression that the engagement of an architect for a scheme solves all potential problems. It is widely assumed that they are completely conversant with all building types and their fitting out. Can this be true? How can an architect, like a doctor keep up with new developments and offer best advice and innovative solutions to his client? It may be 20 years or more since his qualification. It is fortunate that this deficiency was recognized by the RIBA some years ago with its promotion of CPD for all levels of staff.

Although not personally involved in an architectural practice, I have witnessed some of this work in action. I have the impression, I hope wrongly, that much of this CPD involves a tray of sandwiches and a chat about the latest plastic guttering profiles from the sponsoring manufacturer. Little is being done to educate about the growing availability of technical systems that cross the divides between building types – theatres and shopping malls, cinemas and offices.  This is probably as much a fault of the potential educators as it is the architects. Suppliers are failing to knock on the doors.

Little seems to me to be done to lead architects down the pathway of understanding what technology is available to enhance their buildings. I know that those who design auditoria are excited about their sculptural form, and I know that many get very upset when they are faced with the fact that no one can hear what is being presented without loudspeakers. Shock, horror, they spoil the architecture.

How much better would it be for the architect to appreciate from the moment he first drew on a blank sheet of paper that he should make allowances for those loudspeakers – and the cables that feed them too. Design them in, not treat them as unwelcome carbuncles. Should an architect not have as good a knowledge about the scale and service requirements of a data projector as he does of a bathroom suite? Should he not be aware of the possibilities of the availability of control systems which can just as easily control blinds and curtains in a house as switch and dim lights in a performance space?

I have been striving to broaden the horizons of this knowledge for many years. Part of my work is as show director of the Association of British Theatre Technicians annual Theatre Show – an annual showcase of the very technologies which this newsletter seeks to promote. One of the hardest challenges which I have encountered is to interest architects in coming along to see and appreciate crossover products between entertainment and the wider built environment. Architects visiting our exhibition in June might just have that important revelation and get an understanding that can be put to good practice. The theatre industry in particular has always borrowed from other people, first sailing ships with their ropes and pulleys and now the precise control of electric motors from manufacturing industry. Surely it is time for the crossover to make a further step into many more building types.

Architects: be brave and explore the new and ever-changing technology which can enhance your visions. This newsletter intends to help you lose your fears and become familiar with that technology.

I look forward to making further contributions in the future.

Roger Fox is a partner in theatre consultancy practice Theatreplan LLP and director of the ABTT Theatre Show

The Theatre Show takes place at London’s Royal Horticultural Halls from 16-17 June

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