Established in 1841 as a Diocesan College, York St John University occupies a large eleven-acre urban campus in the historic cathedral city of York, one of the most strategic centres of Roman Britain and capital of the northern provinces.
Spanning three floors, the University’s Creative Centre features a 200-seat auditorium and 2,600m² of flexible, specialist teaching space, designed with sustainability and adaptability in mind by leading UK environmental architects Tate + Co. The voluminous 550m2 glass and timber atrium commands stunning views over York Minster and the city, and is used as an exhibition space as well as a flexible foyer space to host musical and theatrical performances, films, lectures and events, in addition to providing a hub for small business growth in the culture and creative industries.
Sound and Light Concepts were contracted to equip the Creative Centre with a comprehensive production sound and lighting package including loudspeaker systems, mixing consoles, audio and data networks, intercom and paging systems, as well as video infrastructure.
Despite meticulous planning, the combined influence of the COVID pandemic, atrocious weather and serious component supply delays compounded by Brexit conspired to throw up road blocks from the beginning of the project.
“Our biggest constraint was time,” said Sound and Light Concepts Project Manager David Kelland. “Supply chain disruptions meant that equipment was difficult to source and delays by other contractors resulted in a late start. In addition, unexpected budget reductions meant that we had to value engineer several items such as downgrading the main audio console and curtailing the total channel count for the auditorium.”
In response to a reduced budget, the decision was made to future-proof the project by installing a complete infrastructure capable of accommodating future expansion and the addition of further equipment as requirements change. “A great deal of thought went into designing for maximum flexibility to allow for simple integration of industry standard equipment in the future,” explained Kelland. “As the Creative Centre – which is primarily a teaching and learning space – grows with the demands of new teaching courses geared to the University’s dynamic curriculum so will the production facilities be able to keep pace with their needs.”
The answer was to create a backbone of connectivity that can easily be accessed. Over 150 AV patch panels and a similar number of production lighting panels are distributed widely throughout the building, giving access to mains power, data, audio networks, LX data and technical power. More than 10km of video, audio, power and data cable was installed to connect the myriad of separate components, with all cables separated by type. AV and lighting devices of any kind can be plugged in to the patch panels practically anywhere in the building and integrated into the global network.
EM Acoustics R10 compact two-way speakers are installed in the auditorium, with a further pair of R10s installed at balcony level suspended from the lighting bridge. There is also provision for subwoofers to be added to the main system at floor level, and for stage monitors to be connected as and when needed.
Power is provided by EM Acoustics DQ series amplifiers, with plenty of capacity available in the equipment racks to accommodate further amplifiers to power additional speaker systems, subwoofers and monitors.
The 100-volt line paging system consisting of Adastra sound projector speakers and Bi-amp bidirectional paging loudspeakers takes care of voice announcements reaching all performance and audience members in all parts of the building, and these are powered by Yamaha amplifiers.
A Yamaha QL5 console at front of house and a Rio stagebox provide 32 channels of audio all running on Dante, and that integrates into the AV lecturn system.
On the lighting side an Ion Xe compact console from ETC offers 2,048 channels of control for the ETC and Chauvet stage and show lighting, and for the LED fixtures which give the flexibility to change colour on the fly. Various pre-designed room modes of audio and lighting can be called up via the Extron network touch panel from front of house, or from anywhere that a data panel can be accessed.
The Creative Centre’s digital media manager Hugo Glenwright was grateful for the AV system’s flexibility “to adapt and expand as rapidly moving technology opens up new possibilities and as course requirements change. The concept will allow the space to match the creativity of the content that’s going in there in ways that would not be possible without the comprehensive infrastructure already being in place.
“During the few weeks we’ve had the run of the space we’ve barely dipped a toe in the water in terms of what we can do creatively. What we’re able do in there is phenomenal, it’s limitless.
“Sound and Light Concepts coped with the challenges really well. We were shoulder to shoulder with Dave and his team who worked with us to give us exactly what we needed, even for an event that took place mid-way through construction.
“As my input into the Creative Centre auditorium is essentially the teaching element, it was the integration into the theatre side of things that was key for me because what we need is a space that can be a professional theatre one minute and a teaching space the next, and Dave and his team put that all together really seamlessly. The whole system can be transformed so quickly, as fast as you can clear the stage – by the time you’ve taken all the set out and swept the stage you can be teaching in it the next minute.
“And it’s great that we’re teaching students on equipment of a professional standard, so that the students can learn on something that they will encounter in the real world.
“I’m incredibly happy with it. Obviously as a techy I would have preferred to spend even more and put even more kit in there, but I’ve run three events in there so far which I’ve really enjoyed – it’s a really great space to work in so I’m really happy with the outcome.”