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Library of Birmingham

Image by Christian RichtersThe breath-taking architecture and spectacular facilities of the new Library of Birmingham drew the attention of the press when it opened in September 2013. Sited in Birmingham's Centenary Square, the library is a major part of Birmingham City Council's 'Big City Plan' to regenerate the city centre and draw people to Birmingham from the wider world.

Described by Francine Houben of Mecanoo, its Belgian-based architects, as a 'people's palace', the complex has been designed as a major cultural destination and sets a new standard for libraries in the 21st century.

The Library is joined to the existing Birmingham Repertory Theatre with which it shares a common entrance and foyer, café and restaurant facilities and a new flexible 300-seat Studio Theatre. The Studio is a flexible venue which caters for a prolific and wide-ranging program of productions, events, functions, exhibitions and community activities. It is used by both organisations and significantly expands the range and quantity of work Birmingham Rep can produce and present.

Stage Electrics was appointed by Carillion Construction to work alongside theatre consultants Charcoalblue, as the systems integrator for the Studio Theatre within the massive £188.8 million project, and was responsible for transforming the conceptual design agreed with the client into an efficient working solution. As part of the process, Stage Electrics installed and commissioned a full complement of communications, lighting, audio and video systems, taking into account the Studio's multi-function role.

Within the Studio, the auditorium is served by a bank of retractable seating and a seating pit. The technical control room accommodating stage management and stage lighting and audiovisual operators is located behind the seating at mezzanine level.

A Slingco tension wire grid extends over the Studio, providing a safe access floor for stage lighting and scenery rigging, while stage lighting bars and audio equipment can be rigged in any position above the grid thanks to the distribution of customised facilities panels.

Sound & Communications
Stage Electrics delivered the Studio's full communications package which includes live and presentation audio, video distribution and relay, wired and wireless telex communications, as well as a GDS cue light system and stage management console. The Stage Electrics team, led by Chris Brant, was responsible for integrating these systems with the building-wide Bosch show relay and paging system provided by electrical contractors, EMCOR.

Stage Electrics also installed an FM-based assisted listening system and a comprehensive multi-zone, phased array loop system for the hard of hearing. The latter was customised to meet the challenges presented by the retractable seating and necessitated a high level of coordination with seating contractor, Hussey, to successfully achieve the optimal working levels.

All loose equipment for performance sound, including loudspeakers, processing and amplifiers and mixing solutions, portable effects, cabling and playback solutions, were supplied by Stage Electrics to a very high specification. The system was based around a Digico SD8 mixing desk with various rack options running through a Yamaha DSP processor and feeding Lab Gruppen amplification with an EM Acoustics loudspeaker system.

Lighting
Charcoalblue designed what Stage Electrics' Sales Engineer, Saul Eagles, describes as "a nice, flexible solution" for the lighting. A system of moveable internally wired ladder bars, manufactured by Stage Electrics, are attached to the vertical struts which support the tension wire grid and can be moved to any position required. Doughty Engineering provided Stage Electrics with a number of boom arms which can be inserted into Unistrut channels embedded in the Studio's wooden walls to create further rigging points.

Charcoalblue chose an ETC solution as the best-suited and most robust system for the demanding, multi-purpose venue. A combination of ETC Source Four profiles and Selecon Rama Fresnels, plus an ETC Ion control console and all loose cabling were among the loose equipment provided by Stage Electrics. Four 96-way ETC Sensor dimmers give 360-ways of 2.5kW and 5kW dimmable and non-dim circuits. These and a stage lighting equipment rack housing the worklight control system are installed in the dimmer room located in the main plant room above the Studio. At the tension wire grid level, a second stage lighting equipment rack houses DMX and Ethernet distribution systems.

Control
DMX and Ethernet distribution is based on a standard network of Swisson's RDM-compatible DMX distribution, and a combination of ETC Net3 rack-mounted and portable nodes for Ethernet distribution. These allow the stage lighting system to control worklights and houselights as required.

Stage Electrics was responsible for the integration of these networks with the creation of customised facilities panels which are distributed throughout the Studio on all levels (floor, control room and overhead). These panels contain sockets for distribution of the dimmed and non-dimmed power and the 13A, 32A or 63A stage lighting power, in addition to the DMX and Ethernet data networks, and simultaneously allow for future implementation of more advanced control protocols and worklight controls. The facilities panels also support distribution of analogue and digital audio sockets, video, communications, SM console and loudspeakers and AV power.

House and working lights are controlled by an ETC Paradigm system with a combination of portable and fixed touchscreen and local control panels distributed throughout the Studio and ancillary areas.

Stage Electrics specializes in bringing the benefits of its knowledge of current technology to its clients by providing bespoke solutions of the highest quality which best suit the application. For the Studio, Stage Electrics provided a portable rack solution containing a 7.1 Blueray playback unit, bespoke switching equipment, and an Apple Mac Mini for sound effects in show control, all of which are connectable from the floor level or the control room for presentation purposes.Image by Christian Richters

And because technology is always changing, Stage Electrics' finger-on-the-pulse attitude showed to good advantage when the originally-specified AV projector was discontinued by the manufacturer shortly before the commissioning date. The team at Stage Electrics was able to replace the original with a Christie DHD 800 projector with a higher specification at a lower price.

Logistical Challenge
Working within the confines of one of the country's largest construction projects, Stage Electrics utilised its key resources to maintain full compliance with the Health and Safety, logistics and environmental frameworks of the main contractor, Carillion.

"The main challenge on the Library of Birmingham project derived from the amount of integration involved," says Eagles. "The Studio lies within an enormous site which must work coherently together and the size of the overall project made the delivery very complex.

"The logistics of managing the flow of trades and materials to site meant our project delivery had to be planned down to the most precise detail. This required close collaboration between Carillion, the electrical contractor EMCOR, and the stage engineering contractor, Centre Stage. Deliveries to site and handling to the individual areas were planned in conjunction with all parties to ensure compliance with the main contractors stringent requirements. This required creative solutions to maintain efficiency on site and ensure we maintained client satisfaction throughout."



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