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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West Upgrade, Part 2

Taliesin West, the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright, got a big AV upgrade in its Cabaret home theater with Elan g! and a Digital Projection E-Vision projector.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West Upgrade, Part 2

Apr 23, 2013 10:48 AM,
With Bennett Liles

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Part 1


Part 2

Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

Taliesin West, the winter home of Frank Lloyd Wright, got a big AV upgrade in its Cabaret home theater with Elan g! and a Digital Projection E-Vision projector. Jim Beaumont is back for part two on this very unusual AV project in the middle of the Arizona desert, coming up on the SVC Podcast.

Jim Beaumont from HomeTech AV Solutions and the Taliesin West project. That place was built, I believe, starting in 1937 and very futuristic for its day out in the middle of the desert back when that really was out in the middle of nowhere. It’s overlooking Scottsdale now. You took on a big project there. Describe the Elan g! AV control system that you installed. What made it fit this unusual layout?

Well it came down, the first order that we got, or I should say the first requirement we got from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation who operates Taliesin West was it asked that it be dead simple because there was going to be a multitude of different people with different skill sets using the space. In particular anywhere from 20 to 25 post-graduate architectural students that are picked to study at Taliesin West. They do their final presentations for their master’s degree using that space to present. In the past they’ve had to use a projector that was propped up on a table down there with a cord to a laptop, and it was not, you know, it was nothing that was too spectacular. So now that we’ve created a full-blown installed theater situation that they also need to use for presentations, we needed to make sure that when they came in there—they’re already stressed out with having to do this presentation to the board—that we didn’t make it any more stressful for them to figure out how to work the projection system. So Elan through their HC controllers, and in particular their HR2 remote—their new handheld remote—it’s really easy to use. It’s got the touch screen with the buttons. If you push the button that says Blu-ray on it, the Blu-ray player fires up. If you push the button that says laptop, it activates the HTMI connection at the front of the screen. All they have to do is plug their laptop in and away they go. That drove us to using Elan because of our really incredible experience with reliability and ease of use. And we’ve been an Elan elite dealer for a number of years, and we knew that we could count on them to back us up if there was any problems we ran across on installation. Like you said, that’s an unusual building that wouldn’t allow us to do anything that altered the look. [Timestamp: 2:55]

And the HR2, that’s basically just like a little TV remote, just a handheld thing that anybody can just pick up and operate.

Very similar. Most people will pick something similar when they change their cable box regardless if they have an integration system in their house. The great part about it is it’s WI-FI enabled, so we didn’t have to worry about them pointing it the right direction or infrared issues. [Timestamp: 3:15]

OK and the HC4, that’s a very compact single room system, but I believe it’s expandable. I think you can stream a digital music source and do video for an on-screen display with that, too.

Where the price point for the abilities it has, it’s pretty much standalone in the marketplace. You can get your Internet radio and other streaming sources on it. You can use it as an onscreen display with its video output on the back, but more importantly it allows for later expansion. So the small HC4 can be used currently in the standalone mode, but then as you add more and more onto an integration system, either across buildings or in this case across a campus, we can switch that into an extender mode which then allows it to talk to the main controller that in this case, in Taliesin West, will be located in the facility manager’s main hub where all the cameras and what not that are on the campus come back to. [Timestamp: 4:09]

And how is the audio system on that? How is that controlled? You can actually bring your own device to connect on that, can’t you?

One of the things too is you have these students that live and study on campus, and from what I was told by two or three of them when they came in and they saw this thing working, they were absolutely so happy that they were going to have “something else to do” is how they put it. So, you know, it’s situation where they can come in and they can either watch a movie, they can go ahead and click their iPhone or their iPad in, play their music that way. They can stream, you know, whatever they want as far as streaming content. The great thing is we’ve got a Denon amp in there which also has a networkable connection, and it can get its own Internet sources through there. So even if somebody doesn’t have their music with them, they have multiple opportunities to get content in there just with what’s in place. [Timestamp: 4:58]

And this place, you would think that out in the middle of the desert there wouldn’t be a lot happening, but I think it’s second only to the Grand Canyon in tourist visits for Arizona.

Yeah. That was actually news to me when I got there and I was talking with the director of preservation. Fred told me that they are the number two tourist attraction in Arizona after the Grand Canyon. They see anywhere from 110,000 to 150,000 tourists every year. And I can tell you it was back-to-back tours the entire time we were there, from the first tour at 8:30 in the morning until the last tour at 5:30 at night. [Timestamp: 5:30]

And so this isn’t going to be just a sleepy little system collecting dust. A lot of people are going to be using this stuff.

Yeah, and the goal is that they’re putting together a movie that the tours will now see, so currently the Cabaret is the last stop on the tour and they have somebody, a docent, that will stand up front and give them a presentation. They’re looking forward to being able to provide a video talking about Frank’s work and his life and Taliesin West. They’re going to switch and put the Cabaret at the beginning of the tour so you get the experience of seeing a short film that talks about not only what they’re going to see there, but also how it came to be, and that’s new so they’ve actually decided to change the way they’ve been running tours for decades to incorporate this new space into it. [Timestamp: 6:15]

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West Upgrade, Part 2

Apr 23, 2013 10:48 AM,
With Bennett Liles

In part one we talked a little about the old 16mm projector in there. That’s actually part of the tour isn’t it?

It is. They don’t let them go back in the projection room because the walkway to get back there is pretty narrow and the doorway is probably about 4ft. high. But you can actually go to the back of the theater and look through the windows, the projection windows, and see the room. What they’ve done is they put lighting in there. They’re highlighting the projector and the canisters of film that have been there since the 50’s. I think it’s kind of cool because you see how things were then and now and just the mere size difference between the current projector and the one that was from 1951. It just shows how far the industry has come. [Timestamp: 6:58]

Yeah and it’s a monster and it just did one thing and you can do so many different things with the system you just put in. But in some areas, we’re talking about some 70 year old wiring in there.

They’re just now celebrating their 75th anniversary, and so some of the wiring, obviously not in the Cabaret itself, is that old but there are several places out on the campus where there is a building that will have wiring that is predating knob and tube in some places. In the case of the Cabaret it was finished in 1950, but in the concrete that’s poured they would run the cabling through the concrete without conduit. So what you have is, in a lot of places, electrical wiring that was run through in some sort of a jacket, not PVC, maybe a cotton or whatever the material was they used in that period of time, that is now cast into concrete. So if you disturb it you’re likely to have a short happen because you moved the wires and there’s now no insulation on them because the paper around the copper has disappeared and the sheet that went over the overall wire is gone. So pretty much what’s there is what you get to use, and so any time that you’re looking for power they either have to bring it in from another location where it won’t be seen or you’re stuck with cabling that’s ancient. [Timestamp: 8:15]

That’s not the kind of thing that you normally run into with the power, but this whole system is going to eventually be expanded isn’t it?

That’s the goal. It’s based on their five-year plan, which they’re about a year into. It’s to reduce the energy consumption. We’ll call it Phase One. That was the solar energy plan. Now they’re into the reduction by relamping and putting controls in to facilitate lower energy use. And some of the other phases are replacing all the roof panels now with low energy, some sort of system that helps them lower the air conditioning costs and also capture radiant solar energy for the wintertime to lower heating costs. As they go through building by building, and as their fundraising comes in and they’re able to pay for this, because they are a non-profit, they will add on more and more buildings. The end result that they are looking for, though, is one system that monitors and controls the entire campus for both energy, lighting, audiovisual, security and CCTV, and gives the facility manager the ability to not have to—which is what they do now, literally, at night—is run from building to building to building to make sure everything’s turned off. [Timestamp: 9:20]

And on the lighting they’ve got several different things going out there. They’ve got twinkle lights and wall sconces and things like that?

Yeah. In the cinema itself there’s four circuits, and we’re controlling those with a Lutron RA2 system, which is great for retrofit because it’s wireless. And they have the wall sconces, which are the original design Frank Lloyd Wright wall sconces which are now very trendy. You’ll see that design style used in a lot of other places. They have the twinkle lights which his wife added after his death. He would never have approved those twinkle lights, but she liked that look. They have some down lights in there that are at the back of the cinema. The most interesting thing about the laying, aside from the sconces, is down the walkway where you go to sit. He was the first one to use low-level pathway lighting in a theater that we’re all now used to. You know, you walk into the multiplex theater and you see the little lights on the end of the row that are just bright enough to see where the row is but they don’t detract from the picture you’re watching. He had those installed back in 1951 and that is actually something that’s now been copied and is used in the cinemas we go to today. [Timestamp: 10:25]

Way ahead of its time and of course you’ve got iPad, iPhone, and Android device control from anywhere in the place.

Yeah. You don’t have to use the HR2 if somebody in the facility has their, you know, their iPad or their iPhone or iDrive, they can go ahead and log into the system and control it as well. [Timestamp: 10:39]

Well this was a great project and for sure one that you don’t run into very often. So what’s coming up next for HomeTech AV Solutions, since you don’t take on the easy stuff?

No, we’ve got a couple of interesting projects. The one that we’re in the middle of now is in Luzon, Switzerland. It’s a seven-unit lakefront building on Lake Geneva. It has the distinction of being the most expensive real estate sold in Switzerland to date per square meter. And that is with an architectural firm we partner with and they are actually pre-installing lighting control and home control systems in the units prior to being sold to the end users. Most of the projects are sold now, when we began this eight, nine, 10 months ago, none of them were sold so that was a big selling point and that’s unusual for Switzerland. Switzerland is not at the forefront of home automation. They’re very slow to embrace new technologies and new ways of doing things, so we felt honored that we were chosen to do that. The other interesting project we have coming up is in Palm Springs and it’s for a couple who’s in the music industry. They are building a very large home outside of Palm Springs, but the cool thing about it is they’re going have a full-blown performance stage there where they’re going to host current bands. They’re going to record shows there, because one of them has a cable TV channel that produces and exposes bands both old and new on a cable channel. It doubles, when the stage is not in use, there’s a curtain there and a screen that drops down in front of it and becomes a rear projection full-blown cinema. Again it’s unusual and so it intrigued us and we signed on for that project. [Timestamp: 12:11]

You guys pick the best projects. Never a dull job.

You know, it needs to be different and exciting and challenging because at some point in the time you can only do so many home theaters in a box before you get bored.

Thanks for being here, Jim and taking us behind the scenes at Taliesin West. Jim Beaumont from HomeTech AV Solutions.

We appreciate it. Bye bye.

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