Nov 1, 2002 12:00 PM,
BY JOSH YAFA
In the spring of 1994, a small fledgling company — not yet called Strike Holdings — began negotiations to embark on its first bowling alley renovation. The goal of the young firm became that of transforming an archetypal 1938 New York City bowling alley into an award-winning architectural masterpiece, despite the building’s decrepit, run-down condition and menacing clientele. After three years of negotiations with the landlord and former owner, the company acquired the property in early 1997.
The bowling alley remained in operation during nine months of extensive renovations, which cost almost $2 million. In 1998 the Bowlmor Lanes opened for business, consisting of 20 lanes on the fourth floor and 22 lanes on the fifth floor of the five-story building. Not content with stopping at its first bowling alley renovation acquisition, Strike Holdings sought to develop the consummate complementing lounge for Bowlmor Lanes, as well as create an inimitable and distinctive standalone event space and nightspot.
In mid-2000 the company acquired the former Health and Racket Village Tennis Club, conveniently located on the building’s rooftop. The massive pressurized tennis court bubble accounts for 16,000 square feet of floor space, or three regulation tennis courts, under an arched ceiling that stands 60 feet at the apex of the dome (almost as tall as the building itself). Strike Holdings’ ownership quickly realized there was no better place to create the supreme high-tech, multimedia event venue at an additional investment of more than $2 million.
Now known as the Pressure Lounge, this dramatic space not only is grand in scale and architectural design but can also be divided into eight semiprivate areas. Each area is separated by translucent folding screens and is outfitted with four billiard tables (29 tables throughout), suede couches, two fire-engine red seating pods, and an NEC 42-inch plasma TV screen. The Pressure Lounge also offers one fully enclosed VIP area, adorned with chain-mail, weatherized metal — and other elements from antiquity — as well as an ornate billiard table and a plasma screen.
The screening room features a 21-foot HDTV video screen, and three 16-foot diagonal HDTV video screens are distributed throughout the center esplanade. Video and audio are routed to the four video projectors as well as nine NEC plasma displays through a 16-by-16 audio/video matrix, which ensures that there is not a bad seat in the house. For those more interactive patrons, a giant game of Twister is designed into the carpet.
Even for New York City, the Pressure Lounge space is unusual, owing to its dramatic 60-foot ceiling height and massive floor space. The dome, which was constructed in 1975, remains structurally unchanged. The air pressure support systems for pressurized bubble structures are intricately engineered with many fully automated fail-safes. Even water, waste lines, power, and HVAC are all integrated into the pressurization system of the structure. If it were not for such pressure system design considerations, the supporting air pressure could easily push toilet and sink water back to the sewers, thereby deflating and collapsing the structure.
The design criteria were to challenge, overcome, and dramatically impact a two-dimensional need in the immense three-dimensional space. The owners visited Las Vegas for design inspiration and decided to accentuate the verticality of the space as opposed to trying to ignore it.
It’s readily apparent to anyone who has been to Las Vegas that the architects of modern-day casinos make great architectural design use of the huge ceiling heights. The Pressure Lounge owners, though not wanting to copy or imitate any architecture they saw in Las Vegas, did take away a wealth of inspiration that lead them to design their own distinctively fun environment consisting of big and tall elements, with the central, freestanding, 17-foot, double-sided, porcelain-wrapped, cantilevered canopy bar being one such element.
The venue’s interior latticework consists of 40-foot lengths of structural steel. Although it appears that the towering steel members support the dome structure of the bubble, the bubble is actually held up by air pressure. Visitors enter and exit the Pressure Lounge through an air lock in order for the dome to maintain structural integrity.
Interior construction was an incredibly difficult endeavor, because the pressurized dome was never deflated and dismantled. Five customized construction air locks were built during the nine-month renovation process, some more than 40 feet in length, in order to move the 40-foot-long structural steel beams and other large construction elements into the dome.
The overall design of the lounge is classic and cutting edge. Visualize an amalgamation of late 1960s retro Las Vegas funk with ultramodern overtones combined with the science-fiction stylings of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barbarella, and Logan’s Run with an Austin Powers sense of humor meticulously maintained by Felix Unger.
An inflatable sculpture, designed to resemble clouds, is suspended above the Pressure Lounge’s interior refinements. The highly variable and sophisticated lighting system leads the eye along the towering architectural elements and into the aerial sculpture, creating a dramatic, three-dimensional effect of looking into the vastness of infinity.
The nature, size, and visual aspect of the architecture and the appearance of the audio and video components, once illuminated, blend together to optimize the visitor’s experience. That is especially important because some consider the Pressure Lounge to be New York City’s premier music, entertainment, and fashion industry event venue. The venue was also confirmed as New York’s most beautiful space when the readers of Time Out New York voted it New York City’s Best Decor of 2001.
The Pressure Lounge’s extensive video and multimedia presentation is augmented by a Crestron-controlled, QSC Audio — powered audio system, consisting of Architectural Acoustics, EAW, and Yamaha loudspeakers. The audio, video, and control systems were designed and installed by Audio Unlimited of East Meadow, New York. Ninety-five percent of Audio Unlimited’s business consists of systems integration consulting and design for high-profile corporate clients, including the New York Stock Exchange and the Rhode Island Convention Center.
The company was brought into the Pressure Lounge project through the project manager with whom Ernie Schaffer, founder of Audio Unlimited, had worked with on four previous projects. “The project manager knew acoustics were critical for the Pressure’s unique room, and the project was also going to encompass a very large scale integration of digital video, as well as digital and plasma screening, surround sound, and control systems,” Schaffer says. “He was also the guy who was going to have to run these systems, and it was important for him to deal with a one-source specialist. Plus the project had to be kept within budget, be completed on time, and be done right the first time.”
A staff of three designers worked on the systems integration design for approximately a month. The installation took about eight weeks, with an additional week accounting for on-site system programming.
The heart of the video system consists of an AutoPatch 16-by-16 A/V router. Video consists of program material fed into the system from three RCA DRD-420 satellite receivers, one Sony DV434 DVD player, two Sony SLVR1000 VCRs, and a live video camera. The output from the video camera, VCRs, and DVD are split-fed to the AutoPatch, as well as into a four-input Videonics MX1 digital video mixer, which also feeds the AutoPatch. For Internet, multimedia, or corporate computer-driven presentations, the video system is configured with four computer plate inputs located at strategic presenter positions. Computer inputs are routed to a Crestron computer control switcher, with four outputs directly feeding the four Sanyo PLCXP-10A 2500 ANSI lumen superbright computer-ready video projectors. One MX1 output feeds video to a Scandopro computer video scan converter and then onto the AutoPatch.
From the AutoPatch router, video signal is fed to the nine NEC 42-inch plasma displays and four Sanyo video projectors. Each Sanyo projector is outfitted with Audio Unlimited custom lenses to accommodate the long throw distances to the main screening room’s 21-foot Draper HDTV video screen and the three 16-foot diagonal Draper HDTV video screens in the center esplanade.
Audio enters the system from a Denon DN1800F dual-CD player, a Denon DN620 CD/cassette deck, as well as the three satellite receivers, DVD player, and VCRs. The audio section of the AutoPatch routes audio throughout the Pressure Lounge’s nine-zone near-field loudspeaker system, as well as two screening-room surround-sound systems.
In order to prevent reverberation in the giant rubberized room, Audio Unlimited’s designers installed the nine-zone near-field loudspeaker system for the primary areas of the venue. This main entertainment space — consisting of the billiard table, bar, and seating areas — makes use of 30 customized Yamaha 8-inch three-way reference loudspeakers driven by six QSC Audio PLX-2402 power amps. Two additional Yamaha 8-inch three-way full-range loudspeakers, driven by one PLX-1202 power amp, are used as DJ booth monitors.
The dual-purpose DJ booth also acts as the A/V control station and is where the amp and signal-processing racks are installed. The DJ booth is also outfitted with a Soundcraft Folio SX mixer that handles source mixing from the venue’s eight strategically installed mic inputs.
The main screening room’s surround system consists of two Architectural Acoustics HV1582, 15-inch two-way loudspeakers for the front left and right channels. The speakers are driven by a QSC PLX-3002 power amp for the high section and a QSC-3402 for the low section, and a Rane AC22 crossover splits the signal. Two Rane SM-26 splitter/mixers are used to balance the surround-sound speakers.
A QSC PLX3002 power amp drives the Architectural Acoustics HV1282 two-way 12-inch rear-channel loudspeakers. An EAW DS-122 is used as the center-channel unit. Low end is provided by four Architectural Acoustics THX-approved CA-S3215 dual 15-inch cinema subwoofers driven by a QSC PLX3402 power amp.
The VIP room is the more intimate screening room, consisting of a surround-sound system made up of five EAW DS-122 loudspeakers for front and rear, left and right, and center channels. The front-channel EAWs are driven by a QSC PLX-3402, the rear channels are driven by a QSC PLX-3002, and half a QSC PLX-1202 drives the center speaker. Due to space considerations, a subwoofer was not added to the VIP surround-sound system. “The DS-122 has such an impressive and accurate low end, the lack of a subwoofer does not impact the system’s performance,” Schaffer says.
Additional surround-sound signal processing for each system includes a Rane DC-24 compressor and ME-15 equalizer and a Lexicon Surround Pro DC2DTS processor.
To reduce reverberation and absorb sound across the audio spectrum by 50 to 150 percent, Audio Unlimited installed 84 acoustical absorption panels. These 4-by-10-by-2-inch-thick fabric-covered panels are used in the screening areas as well as over the billiard areas to isolate as much sound as possible to the respective zones, thereby reducing dome reverberation.
“Without the panels, the dome can be highly reverberant,” Schaffer says. “If we did not use the panels, even with a good crowd to absorb the sound, we would only be able to drive the system to low to midlevels before activating the reverberant field. Because the music and crowd can get pretty cranking, especially from the surround-sound systems, the panels were a necessity to prevent the swirl of reverberation that can get started and hang up in the dome.”
Schaffer says he used three brands of loudspeakers to stay within the client’s budget. “Yamaha makes a very nice near-field monitor that is good at overcoming loud background levels without becoming abrasive,” he says. “For the surround-sound systems, I felt EAW would provide the best foreground reproduction for the dual-purpose VIP room dance music and surround-sound system. For the primary screening room, Architectural Acoustics gives the systems integrator a tremendous amount of bang for the buck compared with competitive systems. Also staying in line with the budget, QSC Audio PLX Series amps worked well for this application.”
All of the audio control — as well as audio and video source selection, volume, routing, and so on — is clearly set up with a two-way wireless Crestron 10-inch color control station. The balance of the Crestron control system consists of a Main Brain Controller, a wireless control system, a video input control, an audio input control with master volume, and four zone volume controls. The system provides the client with many room use options. One operator can walk the facility and change and adjust video and audio simultaneously from any area.
Additionally, the Crestron system allows the user to control the two surround-sound areas as well as remotely start and stop presentations from anywhere. “Crestron offers a tremendous amount of integration power,” Schaffer says. “That’s what the customer really wanted; therefore, it was the right choice for this project. The system control was one aspect of the system where the customers did not want to sell themselves short. They invested the additional money for it, and it pays off.”
The Lexicon Surround Pro DC2DTS processor, used on both surround-sound systems, was another aspect in which a little more money was invested to save significantly more in other areas.
“With many choices in amps and, especially, loudspeakers, these are the areas where you can save the customer the largest amounts of money,” Schaffer says. “But you should not compromise these important aspects of any audio system without investing in the best signal processing possible. Quality digital signal processing can dramatically improve the overall sound quality of every amp and loudspeaker by literally bringing them up several performance levels. Budgeting more for signal processing saved the customer significantly more of the audio system.”
Josh Yafa is a freelance journalist serving various entertainment technology manufacturing industries, including audio, video, lighting, and multimedia systems integration. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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