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Performing arts facilities are extremely complex due to their multitude of uses and supporting systems that must all reside in one facility. Patrons, performers and those working behind the scenes have myriad needs. Some important items to consider in the design of performing arts facilities are:
Performing arts centers have intricate and crucial electrical systems. Unique loads comprising theatrical lighting, sound systems, performance and special event equipment, general lighting, and HVAC and plumbing systems require intense coordination. Each system must be designed to fulfill specific owner, facility and performance company needs. However, electrical systems must also be dynamic, ready to accommodate a variety of production types. In addition, it must be expandable and flexible to support new and evolving technologies.
In addition to basic thermal comfort and humidity control requirements, HVAC systems for performing arts facilities performing arts facilities must operate silently. Unlike an office environment where a certain amount of HVAC system noise is a benefit, HVAC systems for performing arts facilities must not be perceived acoustically. Equipment must be located in a manner that is remote from the performance area. Ductwork must be large to minimize aerodynamically generated noise. Sound attenuators can also help acoustically separate occupied spaces from equipment noise.
One of the challenges of air delivery is designing an air distribution system that minimizes drafts on patrons, performers, and scenery. Separation of airflows between the stage and seating areas is critical, as is avoiding movement of backdrops on stage. For example, air flow underneath the patron seats can be quiet but drafty if not designed correctly. Air distribution on stage, however, must accommodate both the high heat loads associated with the performance systems and the preferences of the performers. Air distribution must also meet the needs of the stage crew as they position props and work in the warmer backstage area.
Stage systems require significant space. Support systems for a performance space include technology systems such as sound, projection, lighting and communications systems, as well as physical systems such as stage lifts, trap systems, manual and automated rigging systems. Adjacencies and space planning are vital to the successful operation of a performance venue. Rigging systems, for example, have very specific space and location constraints and thus have a dramatic effect on other systems. Other factors that must be considered and coordinated are stage egress paths for people and scenery, stage dimensions, wing space, storage space, shops, dressing rooms, truck access and trash removal. All of these elements are interrelated and need to be planned early in the design process.
Translating an outstanding design to brick and mortar provides many opportunities for the design intent and the project requirements to be compromised or lost. A major contributor to the success of these projects is a commissioning program. The commissioning process provides an organized means for monitoring the project and assuring the owner’s needs are always considered. The process also provides a formal methodology for optimizing the interaction of the sub-systems that make a performing arts facility function properly.