When the Norrköping Visualisation Centre was opened by His Majesty the King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden on 27 May, the ceremony marked the end of an extraordinary three-year design and construction process in which technology consultancy Visual Acuity has played a pivotal role. The company’s work included an early feasibility study to set budgets and outline the plan of how the technology would be used, design of the digital dome and supporting spaces within the actual historic building, writing of tenders and technical management of vendors through installation and finishing.
The Norrköping Visualisation Center is a public exhibition space focusing on visualisation and interactive computer graphics and includes a domed projection space designed for academic research as well as for the screening of educational and entertaining 2D and 3D presentations. Conferences, live performances and live presentations will use state-of-the-art datasets for astronomy and human biology.
The Dome theatre has three main functions: to be a great place for the local population to go and spend time, to support and showcase the University of Linköping’s research activities, and as a workplace for local industries. The project is a collaboration between the University and Norrköping City Council. The building in which the Dome theatre is housed is constructed over a river, making it architecturally unusual and giving a number of unique engineering and technological challenges.
Concealed within the 19th-century shell of a former turbine-driven power station that once supplied energy to the local textile industry, the 14.8-metre diameter Dome theatre seats up to 102 people and is claimed to be the most modern and technically advanced visualization space anywhere in Europe.
Matthew Cooper, associate director of research for the centre, explains: “All at the Norrköping Visualisation Center have worked very hard on this project. As relative newcomers to domed display systems, we have found the depth and breadth of Visual Acuity’s experience quite invaluable in helping us to design and develop such a complex and multi-faceted project.”
Mark Matthews, lead consultant for Visual Acuity, and colleague Barrie Paveley began their work by producing a feasibility study in conjunction with the University, concentrating on how the Dome theatre would be used and setting up some initial budgets.
“Flexibility was core to the whole brief,” comments Matthews. “The client wanted the venue to do anything and everything. For example, the front row of seats are removable so that the stage area can be expanded if required, and we have well-populated floor boxes at the stage and at dome centre, which are useful for live theatre performances, bands, VJ performances and events that require multiple media sources to be brought into the dome simultaneously and events where operators of different aspects of the theatre may require to be positioned in different places.”
The perforated aluminium screen has a 165° by 360° field of view and is tilted by 27°, effectively providing a ‘room within a room’ that is situated inside the skin of the original building. Visual Acuity worked on the design of the dome and supporting spaces with Swedish architects ÅWL. Visual Acuity arranged for a three-dimensional digital model of the dome theatre to be created in order to help communicate the complex interdependencies involved in designing a tilted dome into a building. This model was used to assist with decision making and communication with the construction company to explain complex areas such as the elliptical sloping knee wall that encloses the theatre.
Reflecting on the project, Björn Peters, Architect SAR/MSA at ÅWL Arkitekter says: “After four years of work we can now say that we are very proud of the results of the design of ‘Visualiseringscentret’ and the digital dome in Norrköping. Thanks to the knowledge, professional approach and the cooperative assistance from Mark and Barrie at Visual Acuity, we were able to assist in the creation of this digital dome. In order for us to reach the very best visitor experience and immersiveness there were very high and specific demands. The precise and exact measurements we required for the dome to fit within the old 19-century ‘Ströms’ power station. After necessary contact with the Visual Acuity team, everything came together perfectly.”
Technology suppliers to the project include Spitz Inc for the NanoSeam dome screen. HoloVis International, the specialist visualisation systems integrator, designed and installed a six-projector full-dome stereoscopic display system, with a seventh projector as a backup and for presentation use. HoloVis integrated the entire solution using 7thSense Delta Media Servers and a Medialon control system with custom programmed user interface specific to the client’s exact requirements for controlling all aspects of the entire dome experience. Swedish-based AV company Mediatec provided a 7.2-channel surround sound system from JBL and specialist LED cove lighting.
The Dome theatre system uses an active stereo 3D solution from XpanD. It says much about the attention to detail needed for the project that Visual Acuity planned for a room to house the glasses washer so that the XpanD LCD active shutter glasses could be cleaned between presentations.
Mark Matthews concludes: “While most domed projection spaces are new-build projects that offer you a clean slate, the existing building imposed a lot of constraints on the design of the spaces within it. We are proud of our work in making this project a reality, and having worked so closely with the University through the design and implementation of the project, we are confident that great things will be achieved within the building.”