By Alistair Meachin, Founder and Principle Consultant of Harmonia Consulting
Cardiff University has just finished Phase 6 of its seven year lecture theatre upgrade programme, which will be completed in 2022. Harmonia Consulting was appointed as acoustic and audio-visual consultant to help the University achieve its goal of the best possible listening conditions coupled with a drive to maximise the quality and consistency of AV installations.
The groundwork for this project was laid in the summer of 2015 when Cardiff and Harmonia collaborated to define a set of guidelines for lecture theatre technology and acoustics. This document was used to guide the design team and meant that these considerations were central to the refurbishment from the outset.
The design team also included architect Stride Treglown and M&E consultant Houghton Greenlees. Audio-visual system integration for the ten lecture theatres was divided between specialists Reflex and GV Multimedia. Together with main contractors Knox & Wells and Bect, the team needed to respond rapidly and coherently to the many surprises that were introduced by the old building stock, including unknown structure and plant in many ceiling voids.
The Harmonia team reported that working for a client who fully appreciated the benefits of developing acoustic design and AV systems together enabled extremely high quality results to be achieved.
Richard Powell, Cardiff University’s Technical Operations Manager complimented Harmonia’s “passion for achieving the right outcomes, and delivering refreshed learning spaces that provide excellent student experiences”.
The prediction and optimisation of speech intelligibility was central to the project. 3D computer models of acoustic surfaces and loudspeakers were used to predict speech clarity and ‘auralisation’ simulations used to assess options by listening to how the audio systems would sound in the rooms before any work on site began.
Every part of the audio-visual systems was assessed in terms of learning benefits and value for money. As part of this effort, a comparison of microphones was arranged on-site. Both academics and technicians took part in this and were surprised at the great variation in sound quality offered by different solutions. The high end products selected by this process contribute significantly to the natural speech quality both in the room and on lecture recordings.
A number of audio-visual elements have been included to minimise downtime in the event of technical problems. All key components in each room are centrally monitored by the AV support team, so targeted assistance can be quickly provided as needed. This connectivity also assists with asset monitoring and room usage statistics. A portable emergency rack is available for seamless operation even in the event of a major failure.
The acoustic panels, as well as being a vital ingredient of the high intelligibility, have become a key part of the vibrant room colour schemes. Each lecture theatre features a unique colourway and layout, coordinated with the seating to provide refreshingly bright spaces.
By providing an end-to-end service from defining requirements and system design to overseeing installation and programming signal processors, Harmonia was able to make sure that the maximum quality philosophy was followed through to completion. The revitalised rooms now offer exemplary systems, crystal clear speech and stimulating appearance.
Following this success, the same design team are about to embark on the next phase of the project, to be completed in September 2017.