Who Are The Players in Designing Your AVL System

Whether it’s a major project around your home or a major project you have been assigned to manage at work, when it comes time to find people and companies to get the job done, the choices and process can seem overwhelming.

In the commercial AVL world, we come across many players in the game, from the architect to consultants, to our own engineers, and maybe even an owner’s representative and a general contractor if the project is more involved. Then within those fields of work, there can be additional certifications and choices to make based on how elaborate and detailed you want or need the design and project to be.

I was working with a particular client at one point who wanted to engage with me in designing and installing new Audio, Video, and Theatrical Lighting (AVL) equipment. This was a major project from the beginning, but because I was the first point of contact for this project I had to spend a lot of time evaluating what was going to be required. After a couple of initial meetings I had to recommend getting an architect involved, who would eventually get an MEP contractor involved, and then a builder, as this project began to take shape in the planning and programming stages. My role in this project now extended beyond just AVL design and coordination, but also coordinating with other trades.

Not all AVL projects are that involved. Some are more streamlined upgrades and all that is needed is new equipment. This simplifies things greatly and reduces the number of people involved. In many cases, however, an electrician has to get involved to run new conduit, electrical outlets, or just moving those things around to accommodate the new system.

It is important to realize that just because the technology in your space needs updating doesn’t mean other trades may not be involved. The size and scope of any project will ultimately determine who the players are.

If you are new to the process of managing a construction project involving AVL, or just new to the design and construction process, I hope this gives you some insight and a little direction to learning more of what you need to know.

ROLES AND WHAT THEY PLAY

Owner
The Owner is you, the end-user, the customer. You have the ultimate say on the project you are responsible for and how it’s communicated to the subcontractors. In some larger projects, an Owner’s Representative (or Owners Rep) is appointed by a 3rd party company or designated within the organization.

Project Management Company
A project management company may be hired on larger projects where an architect and general contractor will eventually get involved. The project management company will help with the initial steps of evaluating and selecting architectural firms, general contractors, and subcontractors. They will also become an integral part of the overall process and make sure budgeting is on track, help with permitting, researching other steps required to get the project completed, and manage overall communication with everyone involved. The project management team can be very important for larger projects, especially when working with an organizational committee made up of volunteers, such as in a church.

Architect
The architect is the company that works closely with the owner to determine the physical design, look, layout, and functionality of all spaces. In many cases the architect will bring on the consultants for AVL, MEP, structural, and others, to complete the design as a whole. They will produce drawings or renderings of the concepts as they come to fruition for consideration by the owner. If there is any wall moving, or space needing to be physically changed to accommodate your new AVL systems, an architect is required to make sure it’s done properly.

AVL Consultant
The AVL consultant is typically one organization, but depending on the consulting firm and scope of work a separate Theatrical Lighting consultant may be brought in for more specialty applications. The AVL consultant will coordinate with the owner on their needs and budget, and work with the architect on the physical aspect of the design and integration process, coordinating with the other consultants and trades. The AVL consultant will be responsible for developing a scope of work, initial sets of drawings for the architect and for client approval, and also for bidding purposes. Upon completion of a project, the AVL consultant will typically be responsible for commissioning of the systems, or at the very least coordinating with the AVL contractor to do so based on the consultant’s design.

Other Trades Consulting
Although this could arguably be its own category or even part of the AVL consulting, acoustics can play a key role in a project. The acoustics design and consulting of a space is great to have in a new construction or if a major remodel is happening, but if the project is more of an equipment and system upgrade an acoustician is not typically required. If an architect is involved on a smaller project, many times they can provide some basic direction and feedback on the acoustic properties of a space, enough to help you decide if an acoustic consultant will be required.

Depending on the project, there may be other specialty consultants that could tie into your AVL systems, such as scoreboards, sports equipment, and interactive signage such as digital signage and wayfinding. In some cases, the AVL contractor can handle these scopes of work, but that is not always the case.

General Contractor
The general contractor oversees all of the subcontractors involved in the construction phases of the project and is responsible for the final outcome and completion of the project.

Subcontractor
A subcontractor is a contractor working under the general contractor through a subcontract. There are times, depending on the owner’s decision or the overall scope of work, that the AVL contractor may be contracted directly by the owner. In this case, they are responsible for making sure their work and designs are fully coordinated with the general contractor to ensure proper scheduling and completion of other trades for a successful completion time.

TOOLS USED AND WHY

AutoCAD, Revit BIM
CAD is commonly used for 2D, 3D real life drawings, and line work of floor plans and elevations. In AVL, CAD is used for showing mounting details for equipment, and size scaling of equipment in spaces. This is the more traditional method of design and coordination with other trades for design and construction planning.

Revit BIM software takes CAD to a new dimension of coordination. It is for detailed modeling of spaces where all trades participate in adding their components. BIM is great for clash detection, making sure ductwork doesn’t run through the middle of a speaker, for example. It also has comprehensive change management, a model element database, and the ability to generate sets of construction documents. This is great for new construction or major remodels.

Acoustic Modeling
Acoustic modeling can come about from the result of a few different methods. If the project is a new construction, then the modeling is based on the design data available where materials and equipment can be put into place to model the behavior of an audio system and space. Programs like EASE, allow for 3D acoustic modeling of spaces. Some loudspeaker manufacturers have created their own software variations of the modeling process to better accommodate their products. The end result intention is the same, to show the owner how the new system will perform in their space.

Another method, which happens in existing spaces, is taking actual acoustic measurements of a room, paired with CAD modeling, to show what a room is currently doing, and then producing a design to show what the room can do.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS & PLANNING

Communication
For any project, big or small, communication is absolutely key. This incorporates email, phone calls, meetings, digital or cloud storage for all project files, and a way to update the whole team involved in a timely manner.

Some tools used could be project management programs with collaboration features, ability to manage documentation, budget, contracts, and project updates. Cloud storage is popular for large files such as drawing sets, photos, audio and video files, and other documentation. Cloud storage programs allow the ability to share these resources securely to the individuals you want and need involved.

Design Meetings
It’s important for any meeting to have a set agenda and even a hard stop time. This helps keep the meeting on task. Make sure there is one person in charge of the meeting, to send out invitations, distribute documentation, and manage the timing and flow of the meeting. Whether you have a design team of four people, or fourteen, they can get out of control quickly if not managed properly.

During the design phase, the owner can include as many of the involved members of the project as they wish. Depending on the scope others may need to be brought in for consultation. This is the time to hash out any concepts, determine specifics, evaluate samples of products, talk to specialists, and become as well informed of the elements of your project as possible.

These design meetings will end up driving the final product so don’t be afraid to disagree or discuss multiple options now, rather than during the construction phase when it’s likely too late.

Construction Meetings
During the construction process, and possibly starting prior to construction, it’s important to have coordination meetings with the contractors involved to discuss schedule updates, coordinate timing and use of the space, and any other active logistics involved in the project. These will be ongoing meetings until the project is complete.

Schedule
The pre-construction schedule may be driven by the owner or project manager and have input from the architect and eventually, the general contractor as the design comes to completion. Once construction is underway the general contractor should drive the schedule. Any changes should be regularly discussed with the owner and project manager.

CLOSEOUT, TRAINING

Closeout, Commissioning
Once the project is almost completed, there is a closeout process where the consultants and owner walk through the aspects of the project and make note of any discrepancies, questions, and issues. These are then taken to the contractors to address accordingly. Once these closeout items have been taken care of, typically as-built drawings are produced along with any other completion documentation and given to the owner. The AVL systems are then commissioned as part of the closeout process to get everything functioning as designed and specified.

Training
Training will be scheduled as needed depending on the size and scope of work and can be as little as a couple of hours upon completion of the install, or could take several weeks and visits with specialists to work with the organization’s staff or volunteers.

BIDDING

Design-Build vs. Design-Bid-Build
The design-build process has been a trusted method of going about a project for a long time. This is where the owner hires an AVL contractor to do the design and installation of the desired systems. The benefits are typically a quicker turnaround, lower costs, more efficient process, great for small, medium, and some larger projects.

If an owner has an existing, and trusted relationship with an AVL company, the design-build process is typical and helps continue to build on the professional relationship. If the owner does not have an existing relationship with an AVL company then I highly recommend doing an RFQ, or Request for Qualifications. This will allow the companies you invite to participate in the RFQ, to bid on their qualifications. As the owner, you can then interview each company, their history, work type, maybe visit some places they have done projects, and other criteria. In this process, the owner can develop trust in a company they would like to select to work with. At the point of selecting the company, now a design-build agreement comes in to play and you can proceed with the project.

The design-bid-build process is a bit more involved. This is typically what happens when a consultant is involved and the owner decides to bid out the design and make a decision on the AVL contractor based partially on price, and partially on qualifications. The benefits of this process are less risk on the outcome of the project. It’s typically a safer approach. In a large project, this allows AVL companies less skilled in design but highly skilled in the installation process to bid and participate in the project. The downside to this process is it incurs greater cost and takes a lot longer. Every consultant is different and as a result, the level of quality of design will vary. The lower the quality of a design, the more difficult it is to bid a project and get an apples-to-apples comparison from bidding companies. On the flip side, if a consultant has a thorough set of drawings, a complete design, a list of equipment and quantities, in other words, a complete design, then the bidding will go very smoothly and the decision process can focus more on qualifications of a company and less on validity of pricing, major budget gaps, and so on.

Selecting a consultant or design-build partner is the most important step of this whole process. Don’t be afraid to take your time with this process. Plan accordingly to allow yourself enough time to really get to know who the players are. Hear out their approach to your project and make a healthy decision based on this time spent and knowledge gained.

CONCLUSION
Each one of these sections above can be entire subject matter discussions. I hope this overview helps explain the possible extent of a project. Every project is different and requires a different approach. If you are unsure of how to proceed with a project, I recommend contacting an AVL consultant or trusted AVL integrator. They will both try to earn your business, but if you approach them with the intent of getting direction and advice on how to proceed, I would hope either of them would be honest in telling you which method and approach would be appropriate to your situation.

If you are just upgrading your main audio console this whole process may not apply. However, if you are going from an old analog system to a new digital one, there may be elements of this process that are very necessary to make sure the design, product selection, installation, commissioning, and training all go smoothly.

 

RESOURCES:
Construction Terms:

  • http://www.constructionplace.com/glossary.asp

REVIT BIM vs AutoCAD:

  • https://www.autodesk.com/solutions/revit-vs-autocad

Architectural Phases:

  • http://blog.archability.com/?p=239

Commercial AV design, sales & business development professional, writer, teacher/trainer, outdoor enthusiast, hobbiest film photographer, BJJ practitioner.

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