“Historically, Pro AV was the last call on the project,” explains Mike Ferry, National Sales Manager for The Integration Factory, commenting on just how far AV has come in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction world. But according to Ferry, large-scale LED projects have created a new paradigm in the collaboration between Pro AV, Architects and General Contractors. Today, Pro AV has graduated from retrofit to a center piece of architecture. As the lines between the traditional and the new, the analog and the digital intersect, the pixels in today’s direct-view LED displays have become the architect’s paintbrush. And as collaboration between two industries increases, industry experts see a trend that promises to change the way buildings are imagined, and introduce AV for earlier—and bigger—participation in design-build construction projects.

Jonathan Brawn, Principal at Brawn Consulting knows a thing or two about Pro AV projects, having been in the industry as he says it ‘for over two-thirds of his life.’ He says that while more architects are participating in the design and specification of Pro AV systems—LED in particular—it’s important for them to consider a few key concepts. Jonathan organizes them into a concise list of three design elements, the physical, cooling and power.

Today’s leading architects are designing spaces with not only the structural engineering required to support specified videowalls, for example, but also designing for their end-user impact. “Consider the new Salesforce headquarters in San Francisco, where the design has incorporated an LED videowall on the elevator bank. This could be a million-dollar addition, not because they need it, but because they want it,” Brawn said. When LED enables the fusion of form and function, it has truly become architectural.

Cooling and power are no minor considerations for architecturally integrated Pro AV systems, and when improperly specified can add costs and design limitations. According to Mike Bouissiere, Design Engineer at PDS, it can be as simple as a power box or a control room designed into the building plans. Bouissiere too advocates that architects should collaborate with AV consultants, manufacturers and integrators early in the design phase to ensure all necessary elements are included to ensure the aesthetic, performance and maintenance efficiency of the system. And without architectural planning and design, the impact of installing Pro AV systems as an afterthought can go beyond poor aesthetic or costly project scope increase. “A videowall can actually fail inspections such as ADA compliance if it extends more than four inches off the wall. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for error in structural design. Architects need to plan for this from the minute they design the wall.”

With such stunning design opportunity afforded by today’s direct-view LED display technology despite its architectural considerations and challenges, many architects will be motivated to add more AV specification in their design. How can an architect become Pro AV focused in designing the hotel lobbies, stadiums, schools, airports, hospitals and corporate headquarters of the future?

Ferry believes it begins with AV consultants who are playing an important role in the complex design world of architecturally-integrated AV. “My advice for architects is to develop good relationships with the audio-visual systems consulting community. The architectural firms on their own may have someone onboard they can work with, but a strong consultant is important because of the load-bearing issues, the heat management issues which have to be flushed out early in the design phase.”

“Good manufacturers can engineer solutions as long as they are physically possible, and the physically impossible just takes a little longer.”
-Jonathan Brawn

Pro AV manufacturers with a strong design-build component are also an important player in architecturally-integrated projects. Ferry points out that the architectural process traditionally ends at the word “engineering”, but innovative manufacturers are bringing custom engineering upmarket to the design and specification phase. The customization afforded by direct-view LED enabling projects such as curved videowalls is bringing a renaissance in engineering custom visual display structures to meet the needs of complex projects. According to Brawn, this contrasts the “stock product” world of more simple LCD display or the “hang and bang” integration of yesteryear, as Bouissiere playfully describes it.

In today’s elite Pro AV projects, leading architects—and building owners—care not about the scale of a manufacturing operation but look for a true partner who can engineer exactly what is needed to make their custom project a reality. “This creates a beautiful call to action for manufacturers who may have stock product, but also have the capabilities of developing a custom solution for anything, from a custom LED videowall mounting solution to hanging a display on a piece of glass. Good manufacturers can engineer solutions as long as they are physically possible, and the physically impossible just takes a little longer,” says Brawn.

Ferry also points out that incorporating Pro AV projects into the initial building design, may increase overall budgets for the project. By including Pro AV in the initial construction budget, it may be a subsidized component of a capital project or a tenant improvement allowance for a renovation. Designing and specifying Pro AV systems at the beginning of the architectural phase ensures these systems get the benefit of the construction budget and also lowers overall scope—retrofitting is expensive. As a product engineer at PDS, Bouissiere emphasizes the importance of incorporating videowall design early in the process for the sake of precise, efficient installation alone. This is much more feasible and cost-effective when architects, consultants, manufacturers, general contractors, integrators and building owners are aligned with the Pro AV game-plan from the start of the design project.

In July of this year, LG launched a program exclusively for Architects, consultants and even interior designers. As the global display market alone soars to $169 Billion by 2022 (MarketsandMarkets), look for this trend to continue as manufacturers and design professionals to increasingly collaborate to design, specify and build Pro AV into the world’s largest construction projects. The risk of not including Pro AV design in the architectural process drives cost and engineering challenges for building owners, but may also impact the architectural influence on the final impact of the building itself. Said Brawn, “Today’s Pro AV installations steal the show. You can’t instantly retrofit technology like this, and if it wasn’t specified it can completely change the lines of the space.  At the end of the day owners want Pro AV, so incorporating it into the architectural design phase ensures integrity of the original design the way the architect first imagined it.

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