Solutions: A venue for all seasons25 October 2017
When is a Victorian building not a Victorian building? When it’s a neo-Georgian pavilion with a makeover comprising sophisticated AV with a variety of modern-day acoustic treatments, reports Rob Lane.
Located in Weston-super-Mare, the Winter Gardens Pavilion recently underwent a major refurbishment, including extensive audio and video installations undertaken by specialist integrator Design AV Europe, with assistance from acoustic consultancy AMS Acoustics.
Often mistaken for a Victorian building, the neo-Georgian Winter Gardens Pavilion was actually completed in 1927, but the original idea for the building actually dates back to at least 1881 – perhaps explaining the assumed Victorian link. Substantial internal and external alterations were made from the 1950s to the 1970s.
In 2015, North Somerset Council agreed to sell the Pavilion to Weston College for the nominal fee of £1, and the building was transferred to the college in May 2016. The redevelopment divides the building into two sections: a Law and Professional Services Academy is accessed from the Italian Gardens, the Winter Gardens Pavilion from the seafront.
The Pavilion is actually an independent and commercial venue that will be available for public use. The building’s official reopening is scheduled for January 2018, although a full diary of events has already been booked in from this autumn onwards – immediately following completion.
Variety of challenges
With the original 1924 design – a collaboration between landscape architect Thomas Hayton Mawson and town surveyor Harry Brown – rooted in the social usage of the day, both audio and video presented a variety of challenges to the installation teams.
The work contracted to Design AV Europe comprised four physical areas: the Winter Gardens ballroom, bar and restaurant, and reception, and the college reception. Each of these dedicated areas called for different audio and video technology and treatments.
The ballroom’s size makes the use of projection technology tricky, and so a 6m x 2.5m, 2.5mm LED display has been installed instead – driven by a tvONE CORIOmaster processor. (There is also a 4mm LED display, 4m x 2.25m in portrait format, used for signage in the college reception area and driven by a BrightSign player.)
The somewhat compromised design of the ballroom – sunken, with a small domed roof – proved something of an acoustic challenge, with the ballroom requiring electroacoustic tuning from AMS Acoustics.
“We were very keen to assist in setting up the new system because it was clear from just seeing internet photographs that the hall would present challenges and would probably have at least one type of inherent acoustic defect,” explains Helen Goddard, principal at AMS Acoustics.
Design AV Europe approached NEXO to supply the ballroom audio system. This was designed to work in any one of five audio scenarios: speech; dinners and table-seated events; live band, concert-type events; ‘DJ ballroom’ (sound only on dancefloor); and ‘DJ all’ (sound on dancefloor and promenade).
The dancefloor has left and right clusters of four GEO M620 line array modules in white, and two LS18 sub-bass units. The surrounding promenade area has 13 NEXO ID 24i compact loudspeakers (also in white). These are powered by three NEXO NXAMP4x1 controller/amplifers and run on a BSS Soundweb network Audio is mixed on a Soundcraft Si Impact digital console. Control is via a wall-mounted Crestron touchpanel (and additionally via a 15in touchpanel mounted in the operations desk).
The initial NEXO system design was by Gareth Collyer, the manufacturer’s UK and Ireland sales manager. He comments: “It’s not an easy space to put speakers into, with its domed roof, elliptical room shape, numerous huge windows, and countless unwanted reflections. The GEO M620 line array modules in the ballroom allow the dispersion to be maximised front to back. Even though the length of the line array is short, thanks to the compactness of the M6 design, the angles between cabinets provide vertical control, keeping sound away from the windows and the roof. Having the ID 24i loudspeakers around the promenade allows for the introduction of time delays, especially useful for the speech/teaching scenario, where they provide enhanced speech intelligibility.”
The pavilion’s other main audio component is the background music system, which plays in the college reception, Winter Gardens reception, and bar and restaurant. This runs off an Audac matrix, and uses Audac amplifiers and speakers (wall-mounted and ceiling-recessed), except for the Winter Gardens reception, where NEXO ID series speakers and LS18 subs have been installed.
“From looking at the refurbishment project details and the plans that Weston College has for the main ballroom, it became clear that multiple settings would be required for the sound system – ranging from teaching through to full rock and roll,” says Goddard. “The most challenging was the teaching/speech setting.”
AMS investigated the ballroom’s acoustics using an omnidirectional sound source, and the impulse response and reverberation times of the room were measured at 32 positions, both on the dancefloor and the promenade – treated as two separate acoustic spaces. Half of the promenade was tested as empty, while the other half was set up for banqueting.
A spatial average of the frequency response of the sound system was made in each space. This was then used to apply equalisation for the speech setting. Once the two rooms were equalised and the EQ settings stored on the NEXO amplifiers as the baseline EQ, AMS determined the delay that should be applied between the main dancefloor arrays and the distributed promenade loudspeakers.
Obviously, AMS Acoustics’ contribution to the project occurred towards the end of the audio-video installation. Design AV Europe tendered for the work many months previously, having been recommended to Weston College.
“It’s certainly been an interesting one; certainly not a normal job, and quite unique,” says Damian Orritt, commercial director at Design AV Europe. “The venue itself is very unusual – it’s not every day you get to work in a place with such history behind it – and presented huge acoustic challenges because it was, of course, built to carry non-amplified music. The ballroom’s elliptical shape with a big domed ceiling was particularly challenging.”
“Technically, getting the acoustics right is the most difficult part of the installation,” he continues. “Some acoustic treatments [a Class A absorber] were applied to the dome itself just to flatten it out a bit, and we worked closely with AMS Acoustics to ensure it was all EQ’d out and to also program some scenarios – everything from award shows and dinners to speak-only events and DJing.”
The biggest problem faced by Orritt’s team across the build as a whole was access, with lots of confined space work. Cable runs and routes were a “challenge” and with no ventilation in the building, fitting ducting and finding the space to accommodate it was a difficult job. However, there was no need for “miles and miles” of cables: the team routed all the audio channels, from stage to ops, on a single Cat5.
Other signal types used within the installation are HD-SDI, HDBT, DMX and DMX over Ethernet. The new lighting system comprises Chauvet and Selecon fixtures with Enttec DMX management, run from an Zero88 FLX desk.
“We did have to do some extensive metalworking in the roof and there’s now a whole new truss and motor set-up there; what had been up there had clearly been up there for some time. We had to rip it all out and put a whole new structure up there: quite a big job.”
Design AV Europe is hoping to maintain an ongoing working relationship with the venue. Orritt and his team will, at least initially, be supporting the first tranche of live events; he is intrigued by how the Pavilion is going to be used.
“It will be interesting to see how much it gets used and what type of events it gets used for. We’re quite positive because it’s not quite finished [as of mid-September] and it has already been booked. I think it will be a busy venue and will do very well: it’s in a nice location and it is the only venue of its kind in Weston. Hopefully it will be a versatile, user-friendly space.”