Arizona State University Memorial Union
Arizona State University’s (ASU) Memorial Union Building closed entirely for two months after a fire broke out in November 2007. The campus hub wasn’t able to fully reopen until August 2008. Memorial Union provides the main food services for 60,000 ASU students, as well as faculty, staff and guests, plus retail and recreational facilities. The MU’s second floor is the main meeting space on campus. Its many rooms are fully booked by student organizations, along with private corporations and non-profits who rent the MU for symposia and conferences. Special events can range from a chef’s conference, to a Geography Bee for area schools, to guest lectures by the likes of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives. The fire’s disruption of campus life was immediate and substantial, says Sean Snitzer of the ASU Info Tech Department. “They had to relocate every event,” he recalls. “We had a gym allocated for food service and tents set up to house events.”
Turning near-catastrophe into opportunity, ASU went beyond simple repairs to dramatically upgrade the MU facilities. The renovation and restoration encompassed room acoustics, interior sound isolation, HVAC noise control as well as telecommunication, data and audiovisual systems with supporting infrastructure. Because MU is such an essential part of campus life, the engineering and construction teams had to get their jobs done in a giant hurry. “You’ve heard of fast track projects,” Architect Chris Alt of Phoenix-based Studio MA says. “We called it super track – it was a 22 million dollar project, designed in 60 days and constructed in 102.”
“ASU asked us to expand on their existing standards and improve where we could with current technologies,” recalls Paul Corraine, Principal Designer at Convergent Technologies Design Group, Inc. (CTDG). CTDG analyzed acoustics and noise isolation in all spaces. The resulting signal to noise ratios were used to predict speech intelligibility and determine the need for acoustical treatment. Corraine and his engineering team also specified a broad range of technical systems, including: HVAC noise and vibration isolation; voice/data/video cabling; wireless and wired Internet access for study areas, staff offices and the public arcade with its bowling alley; videoconferencing & touch panel control systems for a multitude of conference rooms; high definition projection and 7.1 surround sound systems for the Pima Lecture Theater.
Upgrading audio quality was a major goal on this project because MU’s existing sound systems were widely perceived as inadequate. “The rooms historically had issues,” says Snitzer. “They were in need of a refresh for a number of years.” To provide that refreshment, CTDG was asked to specify and implement systems that provided exceptional clarity and coverage for applications from monaural public address to stereo and surround sound.
ASU had an especially pressing need to increase the flexibility of both the 600-seat Ventana Ballroom and the 800-seat Arizona Ballroom. Both rooms are multi-purpose, sub-dividable spaces. They were outfitted with high output distributed audio systems, assisted listening systems, multiple high definition projection systems and DVD players and recorders. “We designed an audio system architecture that provided multiple zones in order to increase flexibility and support a variety of presentation scenarios within the ballrooms,” says CTDG Project Manager Brian Whitlock. “I assigned the speakers to individual channels out of the DSP and individual amp channels in order to make the audio system flexible enough to handle for whatever purpose it could be used for. So if a ballroom is subdivided into three sections, you could have three different audio presentations going on at the same time. Even if you are using the entire ballroom, you may have seating on one side and dinner on the other, and may want to use the speakers in flexible layouts.”
Rane’s Mongoose / RAD system became a keystone of Whitlock’s audio architecture. CTDG specified six rack-mount Mongoose units and 27 RAD wallplates on the project. “The Rane Mongoose is a problem solver,” Whitlock explains. “It opened up possibilities for us in the design of the audio system by splitting up CobraNet bundles. We were able to have remote audio inputs and outputs at discrete locations throughout the ballrooms, adding to the flexibility of the spaces and keeping the highest audio quality. We have not heard of any problems with the audio system since installation.”
CobraNet transmits PCM digital audio in 8-channel bundles. Mongoose splits each output bundle into four pairs of signals that are distributed via up to 150 meters of Cat 5e cable to the RAD wallplates. It also combines four two-channel inputs into a single CobraNet bundle for transmission to centralized DSP engines such as the Biamp Audia programmable processors used on this project. Mongoose includes a programmable matrix router that is configured using Mongoose Tracker software. The RADs present standard inputs like XLR and RCA connectors to the end user, but just behind their Decora-style wall plates are high-performance A/D or D/A converters that deliver 24-bit, 48 kHz PCM digital audio to and from the input and output devices.
Tight space in the MU ceilings presented a different kind of challenge to the design team. “We used a system called Eventscape,” Chris Alt explains. “It’s a custom system of aluminum frames with fabric wrapped panels.” Used throughout the facility, the system demanded close consultation and coordination between the teams involved in the build. “The challenge, or opportunity — however you choose to see it — was to weave our loudspeakers and other A/V elements in with the fabric of the architecture,” says Paul Corraine. In many cases, the sound system competed for space with other infrastructure: emergency lighting, sprinklers, cabling and video systems. Owing to the sheer number of devices and equipment vying for space between the Eventscape fabric clouds, the ballrooms that required the highest level of coordination. “Lighting was in the same slot with A/V,” Alt recalls. “We had to locate every single device there — fire alarms, emergency lights, the projectors. Everything had to be carefully orchestrated within a very small amount of space.”
With an all-digital audio network that minimizes cabling infrastructure and allowed a large number of convenient locations for the wall plates, the new system has dramatically improved the sound quality in the Ventana and Arizona ballrooms, while providing ample flexibility to handle ASU’s diverse needs, according to Sean Snitzer. “Convergent put a lot of effort behind the audio engineering of these spaces,” he says. “The system would pretty much rival any high end convention center or hotel.”