May 6, 2018 Good City

AVL + Aesthetics in Design

No denying, there’s a lot to consider during a renovation or design of a church. And to create a modern experience, installing a state-of-the-art audio, video and lighting scheme is critical to get the message across.

Nathan C. Daniel, AIA, principal and faith practice leader for LS3P, Charlotte, N.C., says large LED screens in lieu of projectors have become a current visual component trend.

Among other trends, Daniel notes that more often than not, both the house and theatrical lighting within a worship center and sanctuary are a single package delivered by an AVL designer to maximize flexibility and to provide better control of the experience.

Ronald E. Geyer, architect and principal for Good City Architects LLC in Greenville, S.C., notes that Good City recently completed its first design that incorporates a video wall rather than a simple array of 4-9 display screens, and he expects that to be a big trend going forward.

Tom Greenwood, AIA, director of faith-based design for The Beck Group in Dallas sees a growing design trend to integrate the technology into the architecture of buildings.

“With the advancement of LED technology and the lowering of its price point, it’s allowing more creative ways to incorporate screens or walls for video projection,” he says. “Church leaders are also seeing more value in expressing the architecture and building materials of the room for a more authentic experience, rather than just a technology-driven experience.”

Getting started

When starting any project, the first conversation between the architect, AVL designer and integrator should identify the vision and AVL expectation within the room; listening to what the church needs.

“An extension to this conversation is understanding the budget, schedule and strategic planning between the architect, AVL team and electrical engineer to ensure a successful project,” Daniel says. “This needs to be an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

Greenwood notes that the architect and AVL designers need to clearly understand the expectations of the worship experience from the point of view of the communicator (pastor), worship leader and congregation.

“Each represents very different perspectives and may imagine very different experiences,” he says. “Too often just one view dominates, which leads to a room and technology design that only represents one viewpoint of worship. The architect and AVL consultants are there to listen and create an environment that supports what makes a church’s worship experience unique.” Geyer says that the conversation should always address room acoustics.

“Much of what makes a room work well acoustically is embedded in a room’s volume, mass, and surface configuration, and can’t be fixed later, only masked.” Ronald E. Geyer, Architect & Principal, Good City Architects LLC, Greenville, SC

“Because they’re often called late to the game, the assumption seems to be that the AVL designer will ‘fix’ the room as well as the communication systems,” he says. “Much of what makes a room work well acoustically is embedded in a room’s volume, mass, and surface configuration, and can’t be fixed later, only masked. Our acoustics professor taught us that sound absorptive panels—the go-to solution—aren’t a fix. They’re simply a way to turn down the volume of noise you hadn’t already controlled.”

The art of the hide

Both contemporary and traditional churches present different challenges to accommodate AVL within their buildings that the design team must understand.

“Whether traditional or contemporary, each church brings a different set of AVL expectations that the design team must identify and execute,” Daniel says. “This is what makes each design process unique and exciting.”

For instance, in many traditional worship spaces, the design looks to “hide” these components as to not detract aesthetically from the architecture and the setting. This happens with establishing a clear vision for these heavy-AVL spaces that the team has bought into, balanced with a culture of communication between the architect, the AVL team and the general contractor to ensure that the performance and aesthetics are achieved.

As long as you plan for something like this at the beginning and coordinate room design ideas early with the AVL system consultants, Greenwood notes that synergy is not difficult to achieve.

“Video can integrate seamlessly into wall designs, particularly with LED technology, and stage lighting positions can be creatively hidden in ceiling and wall design features.” Tom Greenwood, AIA, Director of Faith-Based Design, The Beck Group, Dallas, TX

“Video can integrate seamlessly into wall designs, particularly with LED technology, and stage lighting positions can be creatively hidden in ceiling and wall design features,” he says. “The most challenging often are audio systems, because of multiple components that can require very unique locations because of room shape and acoustics.”

Sometimes it takes a combined strategy for audio systems, including hiding some components and coloring other components to make them blend into the room’s appearance.

Churches wanting a more modern design typically didn’t mind the technology being exposed, especially when those churches had the one-time standard black-box design. But this trend is beginning to wane.

“If the church wants to bring natural light into the room, which is happening more and more, there seems to be [a greater] desire to better integrate the technology into the architecture,” Greenwood says.

Although there are exceptions, some of the most important events in the life of a church— weddings, funerals, intimate assemblies​—don’t require video display. Still, the display components can be visually demanding to deal with in design.

“We can employ expensive techniques like sliding or hinged panels, or pantographs or rollers, to hide or move [display components],” Geyer says. “Better yet is to find a way to make them seem like they belong. We’ve used highly reflective paint on plaster walls for churches that aren’t built around video. I’d like to see more use of vertical (portrait) orientation in vertically oriented spaces, but planning for it is an extra step for short-staffed or volunteer-run AVL teams.”

AVL in action

Midland Bible Church asked Beck to design its new campus, which included a sanctuary to support its contemporary worship, with the use of video and also the use of natural light in the space. The design incorporated high windows in the worship room, and a cupola at the top of the space.

“The windows were covered by deep roof overhangs, which allowed continuous but controlled light into the room,” Greenwood says. “Rear projection video was used to reduce the impact of ambient room light. Audio systems and stage lighting were carefully studied and incorporated into the exposed large steel trusses that support the roof.”

In addition, automatic window shades were provided for all the windows, though they have rarely been used because of the successful coordination and design of the space and AVL systems, Greenwood reports.

First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Ga., occupies two city blocks in in historic downtown Augusta. And it has bucked this trend for downtown churches: growing by adding young families. The centerpiece of the church’s site and culture is the 200-year-old sanctuary designed by architect Robert Mills (designer of the Washington Monument).

Good City Architects LLC did renovations on the sanctuary in 2013, performing updated finishes including the application of acoustical wall panels that match the color and configuration of existing plaster walls; exposing original wood floors under the congregation to reinforce congregational singing; removal of an earlier system of fixed choir risers to allow more versatile use of the platform; introducing instrument “garages” to allow quick change from organ console to drum kit; and integrating projection screens with organ show pipe surrounds.

LS3P’s Faith Studio recently completed the design drawings for both Seacoast Church (contemporary worship) in Mount Pleasant, S.C., and Falls Church Anglican (traditional worship) in West Falls Church, Va. Both feature state-of-the-art rooms, but each has its own vision, goal and aesthetic.

“It is critical to get all of the stakeholders on board early to understand the church’s vision for the room, manage the budget, identify schedule concerns, and minimize challenges during construction.” Nathan C. Daniel, AIA, Principal & Faith Practice Leader, LS3P, Charlotte, NC

“It is critical to get all of the stakeholders on board early to understand the church’s vision for the room, manage the budget, identify schedule concerns, and minimize challenges during construction,” Daniel says. “Ultimately, the foundational success of these complex projects relies on listening and establishing an intentional communication process.”

AVL + Aesthetics in Design by Keith Loria first appeared at Church.Design on April 3o, 2018. Keith Loria is a full-time freelance writer focusing on business and design issues. He can be reached at freelancekeith@gmail.com.