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Solutions: Antwerp venue undergoes full refurb from FACE

The Elisabeth Centre Antwerp opened its doors at the end of 2016 after three years and a full refurbishment, with planning and installation undertaken by FACE.

At the end of 2013, rebuilding commenced on the Queen Elisabeth Hall, with the aim of turning the venue into a modern theatre and concert venue and congress facility, which will continue under the name Elisabeth Centre Antwerp. The building consists of the Queen Elisabeth Hall; accommodation for the Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra with offices and rehearsal rooms; the congress centre; and the existing halls – Marmer Room, Darwin Room, Verlat Room and Wintertuin. The Royal Flemish Philharmonic orchestra will be ‘artist in residence’ with 45 concert days and 100 rehearsal days.

As subcontractor of THV Elisabeth and main technical contractor Putman Theatec, FACE was assigned to integrate all audio and lighting equipment next to an array of AV wiring infrastructure. As general AV consultant, the design was specified by Charcoalblue, under the direction of Paul Franklin. As well as assisting the architects on the design of the principal room, Charcoalblue advised on the general planning of the building and designing the theatrical technical systems – stage lighting, AV and stage engineering.

The Queen Elisabeth Hall is a floating performance space above the Atrium and has more than 2,000 seats. To improve the acoustics, the hall was fully rebuilt to a design by British architect Ian Simpson. The hall now has a shoebox design, and there’s no fixed front stage so sound loss is eliminated. Moveable reflection panels are placed above the orchestra area to create variable sound projections. Lava isolated walls covered with undulating oak panels provide a balance between reflecting and absorbing surfaces.

270° audio coverage

In order to become one of Europe’s top concert halls, the choice of speaker system was crucial. Steven Kemland, FACE project division manager, chose Renkus-Heinz VARIAi as main FOH arrays, flown on either side of the stage. The left and right arrays further comprise flown VAX15 subs and conventional RHX81 speakers for the side balconies, ensuring a 270° audio coverage for each cluster. The mobile wedges consist of a mix of Martin Audio LE1200 and DD6 wide-angle enclosures.

FACE installed 26 customised Renkus-Heinz CFX41 stair step speakers in three rows, because the stage is divided in three moving stage elements, tailor-made for the Philharmonic Orchestra. To complete the venue layout, two additional DRS218 subs and two extra VAX101 array modules were added as mobile infill as well as three RHX101 delay speakers for the upper balconies.

In addition to the FOH system, an integrated speech system was fitted consisting of Renkus-Heinz Iconyx IC24 on either side and two IC8 loudspeakers for the side balconies and choir wagon. When the speech system is in use, the VARIA arrays are lifted above the reflection panels and are hidden in the stage grid.

For amplification, FACE chose Powersoft’s X8, X4 and Ottocanali series with a Peavey Media Matrix NION, all equipped with Dante networking cards. Processed by the Powersoft Armonía software platform, it allowed a complex set-up to be integrated with a user-friendly interface. In the different congress spaces and the general paging system, Martin Audio CDD5 and CDD8 in combination with C4.8T and C6.8T ceiling speakers are used as the main audio system, which are also amplified by Ottocanali and processed by a MediaMatrix NION set-up.

The hall is equipped with an IEC-approved Ampetronic hearing loop system. Users hear reduced levels of background noise, competing sounds, reverberation and other acoustic distortions that reduce clarity.

All audio equipment is combined in one huge Dante network, which controls and connects all digital audio signals for the main system as well as all other zones in the building.

House lights

For the venue lighting, fixed stage and house lights as well as the work lighting in the building were provided and installed in cooperation with architectural lighting manufacturer ETC. A total of 520 dimmer channels for the production lights were installed, all with ETC Sensor3 racks and modules and the option to use all channels for dimming or switching.

To operate and control the system, FACE installed an ETC Gio console for show control and a complete Paradigm network with more than 60 control points and touchscreens for building control management.

The hall has 90 fixed Source Four PARs as house lights, 60 Source Four Fresnel and 30 Source Four Profile 10° and 14° fixtures all built in. Additionally, FACE installed the GDS BluesSystem as dimmable working lights for backstage, corridors, stairways, grid area and flying rooms. The technicians of the visiting crew can easily manage the lighting fixtures due to the presets of the Paradigm.

Connectivity solutions

In addition to the sound and lighting infrastructure, a new ASL Flexus digital intercom system was deployed for all communication. With 16 wired beltpacks and a coupled wireless Clear-Com Freespeak, all productions will experience the benefits of the in-house communication system. A custom-designed Stage Manager Console of GDS operates as the master control for all communication.

FACE installed over 100km of audio and lighting cable in the main venue alone, for reliable connection between all systems. The network consists of fibre and Cat6 Ethernet cabling for the audio network, cue lights, DMX and intercom to ensure the installation is future-proof.

Kemland concludes: “It was a challenge, pleasure and honour for myself, our project manager Stijn Vermeiren on site for more than 12 months, and our complete project team, to arrange this complete installation, what’s probably one of the most complex infrastructures that we have somewhere in Belgium. More than 1,000 working days and more than 1,500 drawings and plans made the concept to the result that we can see today. Yes, we are tired but more than proud!”