While the beauty and grandeur of traditional college campuses make for perfectly posed graduation photos and homecoming memories, they present a distinct challenge for technology managers attempting to upgrade their spaces to the latest technologies.
As part of their digital transformation, the University of Southern California sought to rethink the educational technologies across the enterprise, transitioning from legacy “black box” AV to network-based and UC-enabled offerings. Installation went flawlessly until the AV/IT team encountered two buildings: Los Angeles historical landmarks, Doheny Memorial Library and Mudd Hall of Philosophy.
The AV/IT Team
“When it came to these two buildings, we had four classrooms, one large auditorium, two lecture halls, a faculty training center, and an executive conference room to upgrade. As a team we all agreed to one non-negotiable: The buildings’ beauty and majesty must take priority,” declared Joe Way, PhD, director of learning environments. “The technology must disappear, but the quality cannot be sacrificed.” This meant ensuring the campus standard of Crestron Flex, Shure MXA, Huddly and AVer cameras, Panasonic projectors, DTEN displays, and their signature custom credenzas by Heckler Design must be integrated as appropriate. USC’s mantra of “standardized by default, custom by exception,” was going to be challenged. “We had to get creative. For example, in Mudd Hall, we reused the same holes from old speaker yokes for new AtlasIED ALA line arrays to avoid having to submit for new permitting with the city. We carved out unused air handler returns to house the main auditorium’s projector, modified an antique hutch to mount a DTEN for a conference room display, and even snaked custom-color network cables with double-stick tape alongside the borders of hand-painted murals—because placing a screw and j-hook into the open ceiling plaster would both be against code and demolish the beautiful aesthetic.”
Lex Peters, learning environments CX/UX designer, noted, “Ultimately, it is important to work in harmony with your university’s rich history. It’s not about having the flashiest technology but creating technology that will enhance the space instead of pulling away focus from it.” The team recognized natural aspects to each spaces’ architecture that would allow for the technology to blend in as if the century-old buildings were designed and built with the AV already in mind. An example of this is the faculty training room. Custom display sizes were fit into archways, a 40-foot-long by 9-inch-deep custom wood cabinet was built along the main wall just to house the technology vertically, six Shure MXA 710’s on thin vertical columns were used to get proper coverage, and the team even built the main 20,000-lumen projector into a coffee table.
From an engineering and systems design standpoint, USC’s focus on AV over IP was essential. Rather than worrying about running power, control, and content cabling for each device, a POE device could connect the system together with just one simple Cat-6 cable.
Raj Singh, manager, AV/IT design and engineering explained, “The older the building, the harder it is to integrate the technology because you cannot just snake through drywall that isn’t there. Concrete, brick, and etched stone present challenges.” Singh added, “Our emphasis on cloud, server, and IT-based AV over traditional AV infrastructure and components allowed us to minimize and mitigate the aesthetic disruption.” Crestron VC-4, XiO and Fusion Cloud, Dante audio, wireless sharing to cloud-based applications like Zoom, and custom programming allowed for the amount of AV in the rooms to be streamlined. “Once we could get the speakers, microphones, and projectors or displays in place, the remainder of the technology could be housed in only 2 RUs of space,” said Singh.
“I believe the end result with the AV was better than before the upgrade,” suggested Joe Way. “We cannot forget that what we do is an art form, and challenges like these remind us of that. That is when our teams can truly shine.” With these new integrations into historic buildings, the University of Southern California is well prepared to continue its standard of excellence for another century to come.