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6 City Council Chambers Design Mistakes to Avoid

Feb 1 2016 / by base4

6_City_Council_Chambers_Design_Mistakes_to_Avoid

More than any other type of space, The Design of City Council Chambers requires a consideration of presentation requirements during programming. These spaces revolve tightly around communication. Audio, Video, and Technology should be considered early during the design process. While we don’t really care about all the gizmos at this early stage, good design will consider sight lines, display locations, and acoustics, just as we would with any performance space. Failure to consider these items now will result in problems down the road.

More than any other type of space, The Design of City Council Chambers requires a consideration of presentation requirements during programming. These spaces revolve tightly around communication. Audio, Video, and Technology should be considered early during the design process. While we don’t really care about all the gizmos at this early stage, good design will consider sight lines, display locations, and acoustics, just as we would with any performance space. Failure to consider these items now will result in problems down the road.

With this in mind, let’s cover some best practices for the design of City Council Chambers

Wider halls for better interaction

Wider spaces and fan shaped designs can help get the audience closer to the dais. Not only does this help with the audience “connection”, but it will also help make the design much more clean by reducing the overall size and quantity of screen required, as we will see in a minute

Review screen sizes early

We live in a world of video. It’s not enough just to see presenters and councilpersons on the dais. You must be able to see the data they are trying to display. In the AV world, we have a simple rule for sizing a display called the 4,6,8 rule, or more formally, the InfoComm DISCAS standard. It’s based on making a screen large enough for a person with 20/20 vision to be able to discern a Snellen E (the big eye chart at the doctor’s office).

The deeper the room, the larger the displays will need to be to be legible to those at the back of the room. The only other alternative is to put additional displays halfway back in the room (usually not a pretty design element).

Consider Viewing Angles

A common design is to build a soffit between the dais and audience seating and suspend the main displays there. This isn’t a cookie cutter approach. Make sure that this won’t result in people towards the front of the audience craning their heads upwards (which also takes their focus off the dais).

There is a direct relationship between ceiling height, room depth, and viewing angle. It’s slightly different for every room, so you have to try several scenarios to find something that works. This is most practical if done during programming and SD when the room shape is still fluid. The further you lock yourself into one design option, the more likely that you will have to add a few ugly displays to solve the “problem areas”. If screen locations and sightlines are considered early enough, you can have fewer screens, resulting in a more intentional looking space.

Think about Acoustics

Just like any other gathering place or presentation space, speech intelligibility is critical in a City Council Chamber. Certain common architectural structures can cause major headaches for years afterwards. For instance, domed ceilings around the dais often cause sound reflections that are problematic to listeners at the dais (the most likely people to complain). Because of the amount of aesthetic consideration required to remediate the problem after the fact, these problems can stay unresolved for years.

Examine Dais Infrastructure

Anyone who follows me knows that I’m a big proponent of additional infrastructure in a facility. As long as you are basing the requirements on past experience, it’s almost always good practice to add additional conduit, chases, and cabling.

This is particularly true at the dais. Technical requirements are likely to change here several times over the lifespan of the facility. Getting all of that conduit in place before the concrete is poured can be a huge blessing down the road. Additionally, many facilities are now requiring Kevlar panels underneath the dais (so that council members can duck underneath in a shooting). There are typically very strict requirements to ensure that the Kevlar isn’t breached. Having extra raceway to locations under the dais can make life a lot easier.

Contemplate Camera Angles

If you are planning to broadcast the proceedings (required by law in many cases), you will need cameras. This typically means one operator controlling several PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) robotic cameras. This can be a challenge keeping up with all of the people speaking on the dais, so several cameras are often required. This is an often overlooked item that frequently gets attention too late in the design process.

These cameras should ideally be within +/- 5 degrees of eye level for the people on camera. If you are higher than that, the image will look like a security camera and you will lose the sense of connection. This is how the majority of people view council events (and more people are tuning in via webcast every day), so it’s worth taking some effort to produce a good appearance of council members on air.

One other aspect to keep in mind is the distance to the camera. The further away from the dais the camera is placed, the more it will have problems stabilizing the image when zoomed in tight. This can be a problem if you have a high ceiling and long pipe mount or you have mechanical vibration. In general, you don’t want these cameras to be any further than 40’ or so from the dais.

Although they are not complex spaces and often don’t have large technical budgets, City Council Chambers design can still require a significant amount of design experience in terms of audio, video, and acoustics. We have designed several Council Chambers and can make sure that your project meets your unique facility requirements.

 

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  • Brad Gallagher

    Written by base4

    Brad Gallagher leads the Base4 Technology team. Brad is an evangelist for creating architecture and technology in harmony, based on specific project goals. He is a strong advocate for eliminating marketing hype and explaining technology in a way that people can clearly understand. For more insight, you should follow me on twitter.

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