System Designers At Work
Oct 6, 2010 5:11 PM, By Blair Jackson
WHOLE-STUDIO SOLUTIONS FROM A SINGLE SOURCE
WESTLAKE REED LESKOSKY
Westlake Reed Leskosky (aka, WRL) might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of audio/video systems design, but the fact is, the 106-year-old company, founded by the son of President James Garfield, is one of the most respected and successful architecture and design firms in the country, responsible for literally hundreds of projects, from restorations of historic theaters to ground-up performing arts centers, schools, medical facilities, museums, government offices, corporate environments; you name it. “The only thing we don’t have in-house is landscape architecture and civil engineering,” says Raymond Kent (CTS, LEED AP BD+C, EAVA, ECA), director of WRL’s Innovative Technology Design Group. “But we have mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural engineering in-house, architecture and interiors, as well as my group.” Headquartered in Cleveland, WRL has satellite operations in Phoenix, Washington, D.C., New York City and L.A., and does work all over.
Kent’s background was mostly in live theater: He was technical director of the famed Laguna Playhouse, and also an award-winning set and lighting designer at other venues around the country. He’s written books on automated lighting systems and theater technology, and taught at various colleges. His Innovative Technology Design Group specializes in “audio/visual, theatrical consulting, acoustics, IT, lighting design, building automation systems and show control, and specialized interiors,” Kent explains.
Unlike some systems design groups, WRL does not have a retail gear operation: “As consultants and not dealers, we try to be as non-biased [about equipment] as possible. Education about current technology is critical to our work, so I’m there at InfoComm and other shows, and I’m always willing to listen to a manufacturer and demo their product and get feedback from people who currently use it. Because of the volume of projects we do, it’s critical for us to get information in a timely manner, and the manufacturers know that about us. It’s important to us to get the right products for every project. I don’t want you to call me back to repair the equipment I recommended. I want you to call me back because you’ve got another theater that you want to do or you’re going to recommend me to another theater because your system works so well.
“Dealing with technology becomes a greater challenge when you’ve got a historic renovation,” Kent continues. “You look for existing pathways: Where you used to have these massive microphone jack fields, you now can do digital distribution over a single twisted pair so you’re pulling one cable. A good example is the new Aviom wall box [Wall Frame 6], which we worked on with Aviom based on a project we worked on. We met with Aviom, showed them what we were doing in the performing arts, and now I have a box I can load up with either mic level or line-level I/O, and I literally take an RJ45 connector, plug it into the box and off I go. I don’t have a guy sitting there soldering connectors.”
Jobs vary in complexity from converting a 1920s 1,200-seat movie palace into a 500-seat legitimate theater with a thrust stage, to setting up a recording studio, video editing suites and an all-digital cinema at Oberlin College, to digitally interconnecting all the arts buildings in Cleveland’s impressive Playhouse Square complex.
Part of WRL’s operating philosophy, too, is to employ as much green technology as possible. “There are different areas related to everything from design concept through implementation,” Kent says. “How do you reduce the amount of infrastructure—conduit and cable, even man-hours on a job site—so you can reduce the overall carbon footprint of a building? What happens to the gear that you take out of a facility? Can it be recycled in a responsible way or repurposed? How do you incorporate more energy-efficient technology? We’ve been working with the Department of Energy on an energy star–rating system for professional A/V equipment. So we’re always looking for opportunities to design things in a more sustainable way.”
Blair Jackson is the senior editor of Mix.
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