Museum Integrates Art And AV
AV consulting & design firm Shen, Milsom & Wike take on the task of fitting a newly constructed museum with seamless wireless coverage.
The de Young Museum implemented digital signage using 45-inch NEC LCD4610 LCD displays, with framing sized to accomodate up to a 60-inch display for future upgrades. The signage includes information, directions, or ad space displayed using an Extron CrossPoint 1616HV matrix switcher, S-Video and RGBHV transmitters and receivers, and an Extron distribution amplifier.
CHALLENGE: Help a newly constructed museum design a future-proof wireless IT infrastructure that functions despite the exterior copper architecture.
SOLUTION: Use enhanced Cat6 UTP to connect 132 wireless access points — twice the usual amount — to provide seamless coverage throughout the facility.
Sometimes the objectives of aesthetic and functional design can conflict. That was the case when the plans for the new de Young Museum included a full copper façade and a full wireless network system. Founded in 1895, the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is the city’s oldest and largest museum. Six of the aging buildings dated back to the early 1900s and lacked modern amenities such as a robust telecommunications infrastructure, wireless Internet or temperature and humidity controls, as well as the space to house such systems.
In the early 1990s when the city of San Francisco reassessed the seismic risk of its public buildings, city engineers found that the de Young was in the highest risk category due to the age of the buildings. In 1995, the city decided to demolish the current buildings and rebuild a modern museum on the original site in Golden Gate Park. As plans formed for the architectural solutions and fundraising, AV and IT became a top priority given the way people communicate in the modern world.
On Oct. 15, 2005, after three and a half years of demolition and construction, the new $200 million de Young Museum re-opened in a 293,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that integrates art, architecture, and the natural landscape. In total, the museum spent approximately $820,000 on telecom and AV infrastructure (excluding conduit), about $300,000 on the purchase and installation of communications systems, and approximately $470,000 on the purchase and installation of AV equipment.
As with any installation, there were unique requirements for the firm that would design the museum’s AV and IT networks. The journey from planning, demolition, and construction over the course of 13 years proved challenging both in keeping up with technology and determining the exact needs. “We didn’t put the AV and IT portion of the project out for bid,” says Deborah Frieden, project director for the de Young museum, who led the new building effort full-time since 1996. “We chose Shen Milsom & Wilke based on their previous museum work and reputation.”
An Architectural Faraday Cage
The entrance to a Faraday Cage in an R&D facility.
Structural interference with wireless gadgets such as a cell phone, WiFi device, or cordless phone is a common occurrence, regardless of whether you live in the city or the country. As Senior Consultant with System Development Integration Tom Condon writes in Today’s Facility Manager, “This is simply a matter of physics: radio signals are thwarted by dense materials like concrete, steel, and soil, and the signal degrades in direct proportion to the amount of material it must pass through.”
In the case of the de Young Museum, the use of copper cladding has created an architectural “Faraday Cage,” which is named for British physicist Michael Faraday (1791-1867). This concept works on the principle that any hollow, conductive material won’t allow radio waves to enter or leave. By completely surrounding a room with a conductive material (such as copper), it prevents any radio signals from entering or leaving the space. This technique has other advantages as well. It prevents radio signals from inside the room from leaving, thwarting wireless listening devices.
AV consulting and design firm Shen Milsom & Wilke worked with Frieden and Bob Futernick, head of the program and content development planning for the museum, to establish ideas on what technologies were appropriate, especially in the open, flowing exhibit and gallery spaces. “We began the process for determining the objectives for current and future AV and IT needs by conducting a thorough program assessment study,” says Thomas Shen, director of the San Francisco office at Shen, Milsom & Wilke, who inherited the project from former colleague Ward Sellars about two and a half years ago.
The result showed that the de Young Museum’s AV and IT needs centered on three key elements: infrastructure, educational programs, and public/private events. The infrastructure needs meant installing enough cabling throughout the building to meet current requirements and support future connectivity capabilities.
“The museum wanted a structured cable plant and infrastructure that would last as long as possible,” Shen says. “We added connectivity throughout all areas of the museum providing the ability to route multimedia signals everywhere — between the galleries, the data center, and public areas — for ultimate flexibility. For further future-proofing, we used enhanced Cat6 UTP cable by Systimax Solutions to support up to gigabit data transmission speeds. Considering the museum will occupy this building for a very long time, we wanted to prevent obsolescence and future-proof the building infrastructure to greatest possible extent. It’s envisioned that the museum will use gigabit data applications for multimedia art exhibits in the near future.”
Each of the museum’s self-contained classrooms is equipped with Sound Advance FM1 loudspeakers, NEC MT Series data/video projectors, automated blackout shades by MechoShade, and infrastructure for videoconferencing systems in the future.
The museum’s educational programs also expanded with the new building. Previously, a single classroom relied on a mobile AV cart. “An instructor would have to come in and get the cart, and then load up what equipment was needed for class,” Frieden says. “With the addition of the educational tower, we’ve added four classrooms, an auditorium, and special use areas like the children’s gallery and family room gallery that all have permanently installed AV capabilities.”
Shen, Milsom & Wilke designed the four self-contained classrooms to have multimedia presentation capabilities including computer presentations, an audio system using Sound Advance FM1 loudspeakers, NEC MT Series data/video projectors, and infrastructure for videoconferencing systems in the future. Each classroom also features automated blackout shades by MechoShade. An AMX control system allows for easy control of the AV systems, lighting, and shades in the classrooms. The auditorium AV was designed and specified by Len Auerbach of Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, a performing arts/media facilities planning and design firm with offices in San Francisco.
The museum also needed the AV capability to host events. The museum wanted basic AV support for speech and presentations, including microphones, a PA system, and more sophisticated lighting. “The lobby and Wilsey Court are one open space, yet used in very different ways,” Frieden says. “Wilsey Court is an event space and needed that capability for speech and music.”
Five Frazier CAT499 ceiling speakers powered by QSC CX Series amplifiers were installed in the 25-foot Wilsey Court ceilings. The area, which can hold several hundred people, was designed with infrastructure pathways and connections hidden in specially designed wall pockets to minimize nuisances like protruding floor boxes. The lobby includes seven Sound Advance SA2B ceiling speakers used for background music and paging.
The de Young also implemented digital signage using six 45-inch NEC LCD4610 LCD displays, with framing sized to accommodate up to a 60-inch display for future upgrades. Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums (COFAM), owner of the de Young, worked with a developer to produce content sized for the aspect ratio and the resolution of the displays. A media server provided by COFAM provides the source content. The signage includes information, directions, or ad space displayed using an Extron CrossPoint 1616HV matrix switcher, S-video and RGBHV transmitters and receivers, and an Extron distribution amplifier. A wireless AMX MVP-8400 ViewPoint touchpanel controls both the lobby and Wilsey Court systems. System components are housed in two Middle Atlantic MRK-4426 equipment racks.
With many of the AV details completed, Shen also needed to work out some very important details for the museum’s 3Com Systems wireless network. A major obstacle was the building itself — its copper façade proved more difficult than anticipated.
“Throughout the construction process, there was little to no cell phone service once you entered the building,” Shen says. “We knew that the copper façade would affect the wireless radio frequency signals, but didn’t realize just how much.”
Five Frazier CAT499 ceiling speakers powered by QSC CX Series amplifiers were installed in the museum’s 25-foot Wilsey Court ceilings. The area was designed with infrastructure pathways and connections hidden in specially designed wall pockets to minimize nuisances like protruding floor boxes.
The façade is made of 950,000 pounds of copper using 7,200 unique copper panels stamped with 1.5 million embossings. The museum’s aesthetic is dramatic and unique, with the embossing giving it a dappled sunlight effect. “Our architects Herzog & DeMeuron (of Switzerland) chose natural materials that would fit into our park setting,” Frieden says. “They wanted more life than a static material. Copper is economical; it can last hundreds of years with little to no maintenance. It’s 100 percent recyclable and over 50 percent of the museum was built using recycled copper materials.”
Regardless of the restrictive building materials, the museum still needed seamless wireless coverage for its internal LAN. The wireless infrastructure would also support the public wireless network, AV control systems, the special fire department communications system, and a security system for object protection. “We have several wireless systems in place to prevent cross contamination for security or fire/life safety reasons,” Frieden says. “Additionally, the security systems are independent and aren’t connected to any other networks or outside communications that would allow such breaches.”
During the planning phase, before the building was constructed, Shen, Milsom & Wilke identified a preliminary need for roughly 70 wireless access point locations. About midway through construction of the building, including substantial completion of the copper façade, Shen contracted a company to conduct a wireless site survey, which determined that a total of 132 wireless access points would be necessary to provide seamless coverage.
“The copper façade certainly had an adverse affect on the distribution of the wireless signals,” Shen says. “The challenge was to identify the areas where connections would be required for even coverage. The wireless access points were strategically placed in the ceilings and display vitrines to remain hidden from view. That many access points meant a complex setup process.”
For More Information
- 3Com Systemswww.3com.com
- Frazier Loudspeakerswww.frazierspeakers.com
- Middle Atlanticwww.middleatlantic.com
- Sound Advancewww.soundadvance.com
- Systimax Solutionswww.systimax.com
Two Cat6 UTP cables were home run to each 3Com (802.11g) wireless access point location from the nearest telecom room. Overlapping wireless channels were used to ensure even and complete coverage throughout the museum. Shen also used Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology to eliminate the need for 110 V power at every access point, which, in turn, expanded the placement possibilities. “One advantage of the copper façade is that it contains the wireless signal, so it’s harder to access unlawfully from outside the museum,” Shen adds.
In the future, the wireless network will also support a wireless tour guide system and radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking for inventory. Currently, the museum uses bar code technology, but the information isn’t real-time and relies on strict management controls to ensure that each person remembers to scan the piece of art.
Linda Seid Frembes is a freelance writer and PR specialist for the professional AV industry. She can be reached at email@example.com.