AV & Presentation | Viewpoint

How To Create Great AV Learning Spaces

AV specialist Michael David Leiboff lays out the roles and responsibilities of those who plan and design successful technology-enabled classrooms.

Designing and implementing successful AV facilities requires the collaborative effort of a number of participants with varied interests, backgrounds, skills, and agendas. For the purposes of this discussion, assume that an institution desires to build a new classroom building comprising a variety of learning space types. 

Basic Design Team
Typically, a team of participants is assembled to represent the institution's interests. Most often a project manager is assigned from the facilities and construction department or other administrative support group to organize and lead the process. Next, one or more user group representatives are identified to ensure that the needs and goals of the users are appropriately met. Finally, an architectural firm is hired to undertake the process of designing the building and to prepare the necessary construction documents.

At this point, a number of sub consultants are hired to help the architect design the building appropriately. The most important of these include engineers to design the mechanical HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems(MEP). Proper planning for these disciplines is essential to designing a building which can accommodate all of these technical sub systems.

Broadly speaking, educational technology for learning spaces requires a similar type of planning process. This is true in particular for audiovisual multimedia technology. These systems can profoundly impact architectural design parameters. 

So what is it exactly that needs to be coordinated, and how should this coordination be orchestrated?

Briefly, presentation technology encompasses the integration of specialized equipment that should be seamlessly and aesthetically integrated within the interior architecture of a building. In order to achieve this, a number of steps must follow, and a planning process must be completed.

Statement of Requirements
Role: Facilitation and Needs Analysis

The first order of business is to develop a statement of requirements. This information is usually codified in the form of a Program or Concept Design Document. It results from a process of collecting user requirements and refining them until such time as a consensus and formal approval have been arrived at. 

This is usually the most difficult and time-consuming part of the process, as rationalizing the varied and often conflicting needs of different users can be an arduous task. It is helpful to engage an experienced facilitator/analyst to help ferret out, organize, and prioritize user requirements. This expertise can be hired by the architect or the institution.

A statement of requirements typical has three elements:

  1. The identification of the range of capabilities and technologies the facility should accommodate, in each space or space type, over the foreseeable life of the building;
  2. The identification of equipment that should be installed initially, for use on Day 1; and
  3. An estimated cost of initial equipment installation. Often this budget is conceived as a scenario analysis, outlining several alternatives, in terms of high, medium, and low cost options.

Basebuilding Infrastructure Design 
Role: Basebuilding Architectural Designer

Once the AV program has been completed, the architect must develop a detailed, buildable design that is hospitable to the equipment that will be installed. A variety of architectural design priorities must evolve, some of which include:

  • Physical space to accommodate the necessary racks of support equipment;
  • Appropriate electrical power and telecommunications connectivity;
  • Coordination of ceiling elements, including projector(s), audio speakers, and video cameras (as well as lighting, HVAC elements, sprinkler heads, etc.);
  • Coordination of wall and floor elements, such as patch panels, wall and floor boxes, projection screens, etc.;
  • Conduit runs to accommodate low voltage wiring needed to support AV systems;
  • Millwork, such as casework to house equipment and power or network outlets; and
  • Structural Support to accommodate wall- or ceiling-mounted flat-panel displays and projectors.

Few if any architects have this kind of design expertise in house and often hire an AV consultant to guide them in the architectural accommodation of technology.

Technical Systems Design
Role: Systems Designer

Once the building is well under construction, detailed technical systems design and specification must be completed.

This involves completing the following tasks: 

  • Developing a systems design that achieves the utility needed to meet Day 1 requirements and also stay with budget targets established in the needs analysis phase;
  • Identifying equipment items needed, by make and model number (or, in some cases, functional performance);
  • Identifying signal flows, which define technically how the equipment will be integrated; and
  • Installation procedures and technical performance requirements.

Again, not many architects can provide this service directly, and they typically either ask the institution to contract a consultant or hire one themselves. 

Systems Integration
Role: Systems Integrator

After the systems has been designed, the equipment must be procured, installed and tested. In a project of any complexity and scope, it is wise to hire a systems integrator to take responsibility for this work. This contract is often held by the client.
 
The most common approach to integrating audiovisual technology into a building project, as described above, is for either the architect or institution to follow one of two paths: 

  1. To hire an audiovisual consultant to conceive, architect, and design AV systems with the goal of preparing a specification for competitive bid, followed by the participation of a systems integrator; or
  2. To bypass the audiovisual consultant and hire only a systems integrator to conceive, design and install of the systems equipment.

Experience shows that both methods can work wonderfully well, and both can fail miserably.

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