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Editorial — AV.technology

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21 February 2013

Holding on to your vision

Some of the projects we do are simply set-and-forget. Once you’ve got the DSP settings right in a lecture theatre, so long as nothing blows up badly, at worst you may have to replace a speaker driver and/or an amp channel every now and again; otherwise you can probably just leave the system ticking over for years on end without intervention until the next refurb.
Projectors are another matter altogether: every light source loses output continuously from the time it’s first energised. Whether it’s a tungsten halogen source that’s only good for a few hundred hours, a metal halide discharge that’s good for a few thousand, or a solid state laser or LED that’s good for several tens of thousands of hours. Even if they never fail catastrophically, they will all eventually reach a point where they’re too dim to use. Perhaps in the case of some solid state devices the projector may reach the end of its service life or its technological usefulness before this happens, but there are other elements of projector performance maintenance, such as cleaning the exposed elements of the optics, that require periodic intervention.
Then there are the projects that from the moment of inception we know will require constant intervention. Sometimes it’s because we’ve pushed the technological envelope past its point of stability, requiring regular maintenance and constant recalibration just to keep the system functioning at all. Other times it’s because the project includes content that requires continuous updating to retain its value or relevance. Even mashed-up content built from automated weather and news feeds will fail when some inconsiderate designer at the information provider’s website changes the site’s file structure or the file names of your source data feeds.
When we’re designing, constructing, installing, commissioning and programming systems that require constant nurturing and maintenance, it’s obviously critical that we keep our clients advised of these ongoing needs. We should provide them with thorough briefings and documentation, and ensure a smooth and informed handover to the tenants, owners, building managers, operations and maintenance departments who will be the end users, and hopefully beneficiaries, of our creations.
And then, sadly, there are projects that are deliberately neglected to provide their owners with an excuse to decommission and eventually scrap them. We’re all familiar with the uncanny frequency with which heritage buildings burn to the ground at just the right time to allow a real estate developer to go ahead with a contested project. This same attitude has been known to appear in a different guise in other development projects.
If you want to develop a big commercial property project on public land, land that formerly had broad public usage or contained a community facility like a library or a playground or a theatre, you are often required to incorporate some vaguely similar replacement facility somewhere in the new development. In some places, to avoid developments becoming soulless concrete boxes completely covering a site, a very small proportion of the development budget is required to be spent on an approved ‘public art’ project. This explains the appearance of so many otherwise-incongruous sculptures and fountains in the foyers and forecourts of new commercial developments.
Sometimes, swept away by a their public relations consultant’s advice that it could be good for the image of the company and the project, a developer will agree to incorporate a higher profile project that involves ongoing maintenance like cleaning fountain pump filters, replacing lamps, updating image libraries, repairing damaged user interfaces or paying for an internet connection. It’s remarkably easy to justify not spending the money on maintenance after the initial publicity value has been mined from the project, despite the development conditions usually including an agreement to maintain the installation for a minimum of 10 years. One of the best tactics though, is to on-sell the building to a subsidiary, or a newly refinanced entity or even to a genuine purchaser. As the agreement to provide the playground, or maintain the projectors, or top-up the water in the fountain was with the original development company, which by now has long-since capsized and sunk during a thunderstorm in the Cayman Islands, nobody can possibly be held responsible. So the safest thing is tear down those dangerous projectors, fill in the fountain to avoid a public hazard or remove the lighting poles that get in the way of trucks backing up to the loading ramp.
It’s just so disheartening to see all the creative work that’s gone into these cleverly conceived AV projects falling into neglect and eventually being hauled off to the tip.
Andy Ciddor, Editor: andy@avapac.net

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