Old buildings: Attractive, well-built...and problematic?

Old buildings can be beautiful, and their owners may cherish their solidity and strength. But the AV systems integrator planning a job in such a building often knows it can bring its own distinct challenges. Some of the problems are easy to guess: Thick walls, minimal room for cabling and control systems, and so on. But sometimes challenges arise from just the opposite factors. When Audio Visual Innovations’ Broadview, Ohio, office began working on a technology update at Cleveland’s 1872-vintage Union Club, the biggest stumbling block they encountered was a big chunk of open space
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Old buildings: Attractive, well-built...and problematic?

Feb 10, 2005 8:00 AM

Old buildings can be beautiful, and their owners may cherish their solidity and strength. But the AV systems integrator planning a job in such a building often knows it can bring its own distinct challenges.

Some of the problems are easy to guess: Thick walls, minimal room for cabling and control systems, and so on. But sometimes challenges arise from just the opposite factors.

When Audio Visual Innovations’ Broadview, Ohio, office began working on a technology update at Cleveland’s 1872-vintage Union Club, the biggest stumbling block they encountered was a big chunk of open space. The four-story building in the heart of downtown had a large, open stairwell running through its core, and because of the size and design of the stairwell, it was impossible to get cabling across or around it.

As a result, the new AV network could link rooms on different floors as long as they were on the same side of the building. To bring the other side of the structure into the network, cabling had to run down to the basement, across and back up. “You need to understand how long the resulting cabling runs are going to be, so you can be sure you have the right distribution systems,” says account manager Nick Santoro. Some of the cable runs at the Union Club exceeded 400ft.

AVI provided the Union Club with 16 wall plates, each providing connectivity to the network for a range of video and audio signals in both directions. The club also has several mobile videoconferencing systems it can move as needed for members who are hosting meetings or other events in its parlors.

The wall plates followed as closely as possible the installation of new, updated electrical wiring, Santoro says. In addition to “piggybacking” on electrical conduits in many areas, the AV system required some dedicated new conduit to be installed. That, Santoro says, made early cooperation with the architect and electrical contractor a must. It also isn’t easy to install cables in an old building. Glenn Polly of VideoSonic Systems, Inc in New York notes these buildings often feature “thick concrete walls impossible to drill through.” That same wall thickness also impedes RF wireless networking and remote control, Polly says.

In renovating AV systems at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Polly adds, VideoSonic encountered a lot of solid granite in counters, walls, columns and ornaments. One solution was to design custom-built millwork to provide new surrounds for speakers and other components.

That solution illustrates Polly’s view that the aesthetic demands of working in an older building can often be even more difficult than the technical aspects. For the Louis Armstrong house in Corona, Queens, N.Y., one mandate was not to have any technology visible that was inappropriate to the era in which Armstrong lived there—from 1943 until Satchmo’s death in 1971.

“The interior of the house was restored to appear as if Louis were still living there,” Polly says. “The audio system plays back sound bites of him entertaining famous celebrities and other guests. The speaker systems we chose were from Sound Advance. They are installed invisibly in the wallboard and are completely ‘stealth,’ not visible whatsoever,” Polly says.

Completing the effect, the sound programs are activated by a wave of the hand, so that even buttons or switches don’t mar the home’s authenticity.

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