Mills College Lisser Hall
Mills College, located in the San Francisco Bay area, has been providing a progressive education since 1853. The school is a private, liberal arts women’s college with approximately 750 undergraduates attending classes on the 135-acre campus. For the past nine years, Mills College has been ranked by Princeton Review as one of the greenest colleges in the U.S. Students participate in maintaining a community farm, botanic garden and a Reuse Depot.
The historic Lisser Hall performance theater, which is located on the campus, provides an intimate setting for concerts and theatrical performances. Seating 250 people, the theater was named for the long-time head of the school’s music department. In the 1970s, the theater’s interior design was reversed during a remodel, with the lobby moved to where the stage was previously located.
In the summer of 2017, the college began an extensive renovation of the theater. One of the goals was to bring the building up to seismic standards by reinforcing the walls and foundations to withstand an earthquake. The renovation also increased accessibly by adding an elevator and ramp. Additionally, the renovation improved the audience experience by adding telescoping chairs, installing a spring floor and adding a terrace.
Because of the previous renovation, the building contained multiple layers of walls and floors that required additional time to remove and rebuild. The 100-year-old theater building also included hard to access areas and narrow pathways, which meant there was very little, if any, available space to install conduits. Because the theater is a historic building, the wiring and AV systems were not up to modern code.
As part of the renovation, the college wanted to integrate a groundbreaking AV-over-IP solution into the theater. Because of the historic building requirements, Mills College could not use the traditional conduit infrastructure. The college also needed to keep the renovations as affordable as possible, and costs for maintaining and running the theater were an important consideration in renovation decisions. The new AV network needed to be independent of the Mills College network, because the main network is not full converged.
To allow students operating the AV equipment to be able to plug in any type of device into a network jack, the AV infrastructure needed a flat network. The college wanted devices plugged into the network to have the same functionality as if on an analog network. This meant the network would need to handle audio distribution, audio ingest, video in and out, control functions and production-style intercom.
Mills College quickly realized they needed a partner for the project who was familiar with designing state-of-the-art AV systems for unique spaces. By working with David Carroll Associates (DCA), the college was not simply provided with products and components, but instead, a true and complete system.
“When deciding who to work with, I spoke with the engineering supervisor at Skywalker, who had worked with DCA for years,” says Les Stuck, Technical Director at Mills College. “He enthusiastically confirmed the quality of their work and their willingness to adapt and make changes.”
As an integrator, DCA works to design and build a unified solution within a project’s costs and design parameters. In addition to affordability, Mills College hired DCA because of their reputation for going the extra mile to meet their clients’ needs. DCA was an early adopter of AV-over-IP solutions, including a major project with Stanford University in 2006.
DCA worked on the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music in the mid 1990’s and David Caroll, owner of DCA, was very excited to work with the college again. “Our last project with the college was in an all-analog world. While we still love analog, the opportunity to stretch out and deliver a fully converged AV over IP network was welcome,” said Carroll. “Much of the network video projects we have done in recent years have been more high-end or “broadcast style”, and it was good to try some of the same approaches for what is otherwise a fairly straight-forward AV system project – on a budget.”
DCA began working closely with Mills College to design the ideal solution that would work both today and for the school’s future needs. Because the next renovation is likely decades away, the system needed to be flexible and scalable, so the infrastructure can adapt to new technology and changing needs. DCA used its knowledge of protocols, interoperability and interfaces to solve the issues that arose throughout the six-month project.
Stuck said that when the college discovered that they did not have the budget for the AV conduit, the project was in jeopardy. “However, DCA suggested converting the system from analog to digital (audio and video over IP). The proposed solution saved enough on cable costs to cover both the AV and IT systems.”
Because Mills College wanted to use multiple protocols on the same wire without using VLANs, DCA’s network architecture and engineering team built a test lab for proof-of-concept testing. The team checked the interoperability of various products that were being considered for audio, video, control and intercom functionality.
To create the AV-over-IP in a fully integrated, fully converged system, DCA used products from manufacturers with industry experience and reputations for top-quality that met both the project and space requirements. During the project, several of the manufacturers commented that DCA is on the leading edge of AV-over-IP solutions because DCA is one of the few using this unique and exceptionally effective approach.
For the Lisser Hall performance theater, the core network infrastructure was powered by Extreme Networks. DCA selected QSC Q-LAN protocol for the audio system, QSC Control and the Yamaha TF mixing console that supports DANTE protocol for the audio consoles. The team also installed Visionary Solution video over IP products and Studio Technologies production intercom over IP solution. Additionally, the team used wireless microphones by Shure and loudspeakers by Meyer Sound.
The result of the project was an AV-over-IP in a fully integrated, fully converged system that allows the flexibility the college needs for the future. The Lisser Hall performance theater is one of the few AV systems that combine multiple video services, audio services, control and intercom into a single physical network.
Stuck said that AV over IP is a new technology for theaters and DCA took the time to get the system working solidly. “Even though the budget was extremely tight, DCA was able to squeeze in some nice surprises and incorporated functionality that we had assumed was out of scope,” says Stuck.
When the project was completed, the historic Lisser Hall performance theater had a new AV-over-IP solution that simplified operations while delivering exceptional AV performance in a production environment. The new system paid for itself by eliminating the need for specialty wiring and conduit infrastructure.
Carroll and his team enjoyed seeing what was possible with AV-over-IP technology, especially in a historic building. “I feel that this project will be a model going forward, for many types of projects. The IP architecture is the way of the future (as everyone keeps saying) – it was good to really see it in action – here – now,” says Carroll.”
The new system offered the following benefits:
With AV-over-IP, the audio and video signal routing is not limited to a fixed matrix, which means the matrix and distribution solution are a single component. Instead of being forced to scale using stepwise cost increments, as is necessary with traditional matrix systems such as SDI or HDMI video routing solutions, Mills College has a fully scalable architecture. As their needs change, the college can scale linearly with the size of the system, which provides significant cost and efficiency benefits.
By installing a network-based system, DCA eliminated a large amount of the conduit infrastructure required for the project. This resulted in a significant cost savings that allowed the college to purchase a much more comprehensive AV system than expected.
The extremely flexible deployment enables free scaling of system size. The AV system can now accommodate different audience sizes and performance types. Additionally, the college can easily modify the system in the future without extensive and expensive infrastructure changes. By using the Yamaha mixers and the Q-LAN protocol, someone with little training can turn on the projector to set up a laptop and microphone for a basic presentation. For performances, an audio engineer can use the Yamaha consoles in an advanced, full control configuration.
Because students often operate and maintain the system, ease-of-use was a top priority. The new AV-over-IP solution carries all video, audio, intercom and control functions over a purpose-built AV network. Additionally, all the technology runs on a single VLAN, meaning operators can plug any device into any port with zero user configuration.
Mills College has received positive feedback on the project from performance attendees, theater professors and student performers. The school expects to be able to expand the types of performances presented in the theater, such dance and art exhibits. The school has also rented out the space to outside organizations to earn additional revenue. The college is confident that its new system provides the technology and high-quality output for student performers to showcase their talents.
“Throughout the process, they were flexible, easy to work with, and stayed within our budget. Although much of the building construction was delayed, they finished on time,” says Stuck. “All in all, we are super happy with DCA, the decision to go digital, how well everything works, their prices, and how closely they worked with Meyer Sound.”
Lisser Hall from a Network Architecture View
By Kevin Gross, DCA’s Network Architect
Networking promises to improve flexibility of our AV infrastructure. Before networking, we needed separate cabling for each AV function in a facility. If the AV functions changed, rewiring was required. Many networked AV systems today do not achieve the level of flexibility promised by the network approach. Network equipment or connections must be dedicated to specific functions and when the functions change, the connections must be reconfigured or even re-wired. Additionally, the AV network does not often integrate well with other networking activities and equipment in the facility.
The design the DCA team used for Lisser Hall performance theater brings AV networking much closer to delivering on these networking flexibility promises. Over 100 potential network connection points are all interchangeable and they are configured and operate similarly. Students and others working in the theater are free to reposition and reconnect equipment with no network configuration requirements or restrictions.
Security should be a concern with any network installation. The ubiquity and flexibility of an Ethernet network also makes it an attractive target for mischief and worse. A unique aspect of the Lisser theatre network is its security provisions. The Lisser AV network is integrated with the general-purpose campus network. The network maintains a whitelist of authorized equipment. Traffic from unauthorized equipment is rejected at the edge of the network. Security provision are in place in these connections to prevent the systems from interfering with each other and provides some degree of isolation such that a security breach on one of the networks does not automatically compromise the other. One firewall secures both systems from outside attacks while allowing secure remote monitoring and maintenance operations.
Artist Rendering of Lisser Hall exterior courtesy of ELS Architecture and Urban Design.
From the Project Director standpoint I can say that DCA was experienced, highly professional, innovative and attentive to working in an existing historic building on a tight budget. They understood the high expectations we had for this project to create the best possible facility for our students, and we were delighted with the results. We would definitely work with DCA in the future.
This is a somewhat new technology for theaters, and DCA took the time to get everything working solidly. Although the budget was extremely tight, they were able to squeeze in some nice surprises, bringing back items that we had removed from the scope. Throughout the process, they were flexible, easy to work with, and stayed within our budget. All in all, we are super happy with DCA: the decision to go digital, and how well everything works.