Graham, Swift & Company Choose Philips Strand Lighting
The Sylvia Beard Theatre opens with IGBT dimming and a Palette VL control console
Monday, October 29, 2012
by Philips Strand Lighting

The Buford Community Center, Town Park and Theatre is a state-of-the-art facility designed by BRPH architectural and engineering firm. The facility features banquet and meeting space, an outdoor amphitheater, the new home of the Buford Museum, plus the 290-seat Sylvia Beard Theatre. Complete with orchestra and balcony seating, plus VIP boxes, the Sylvia Beard Theatre portion of the new venue was designed by Graham, Swift and Company and is the perfect setting for local and touring theatrical performances, orchestra presentations, dance, or comedy shows, and it’s controlled with an Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor (IGBT) dimming system and a Palette VL control console from Philips Strand Lighting.

“When the project was first being created, we were brought on by the Atlanta office of the architectural design firm BRPH,” began Charles Swift, Principal Consultant, Graham, Swift and Company. “Since we had never worked with the firm before, we were excited to be able to design everything in the original layout including the rigging, sound, and lighting. In our design meetings, BRPH basically gave us the footprint of the theatre space and we took it from there.”

“Because the architect allowed us to do the original drawings for the theatre space, we were able to really place all the elements exactly where they needed to go,” added Lawrence Graham, Principal Consultant, Graham, Swift and Company. “Since we were able to do this, our challenge wasn’t necessarily where to put the dimming system, it became more of what exact sort of system do we want to put in here.”

As Swift and Graham got to work, they designed the stage in a proscenium-style that measured 32 feet wide x 18 feet high with a depth of 24 feet, and working wing space on each side. While the space will be used primarily for local community theatre and college productions, the city also wanted to be able host touring productions and hold business meetings in the theatre to complement the ballroom and break-out rooms inside the venue as well.

Swift continued, “Since the theatre space itself is small in square footage, the first thing we knew was that we weren’t going to have a dedicated dimmer room. We couldn’t afford to waste space on a separate room that would need to be air-conditioned and have power run to it for a bunch of dimmer racks. So the dimming would have to be located inside the theatre itself and as far as putting dimming into a theatre space, we will not do that with anything that is not convection cooled. If it has a fan, it cannot go in the space.”

Understanding the needs of the dimming system, Swift and Graham began looking once again at the IGBT technology proprietary to Strand dimming systems. Having successfully worked with the technology in previous installations, they did not hesitate to begin designing it into the Sylvia Beard Theatre as well.

“This is our third complete IGBT project and we have been looking at this technology for a number of years,” admitted Swift. “In the past, we used to write electrical load letters for theatre spaces detailing exactly how much power would be needed to run to all the dimmers, and we would come up with astronomical loads, even when we applied a significant diversity factor to the calculations. That’s when we discovered IGBT dimming where we could distribute 2400 Watts over two outlets, and this allowed us to eliminate a lot of excess capacity, decrease the anticipated loads, and reduce heat for the A/C. IGBT dimming has a direct effect on everything that goes into powering and cooling a building, and it’s a huge cost savings for everyone.”

Graham added, “If you can reduce the size of all of the copper that is required, you can reduce the size of the transformer that is required, and you end up saving the owner significant sums of money. Then on the installation side, there are many fewer connections to be made in the field, and that equates to a cost savings as well. When an electrical contractor is putting in an IGBT dimming system all they really have to do is land the 3-phase wire on the distribution strip. The speed of installation of an IGBT system, and the ease of installation on the contractor, makes it the ideal distributed dimming system.”

With the decision made to once again utilize an IGBT dimming system, Swift and Graham specified four R21 Powered Raceways, five A21 Dimming Cabinets, and Contact Relay Panels as well, all from Philips Strand Lighting.

Swift explained, “We placed one R21 Raceway in the front-of-house and three onstage in the rigging. With the A21 Dimming Cabinets, we placed one in the house for box booms and the balcony rail, one on each side of the stage on the service galleries for drop boxes, and then two cabinets onstage for the connection boxes on the upstage wall. One of the features we like most about Strand dimming is we can distribute everything we need in the Raceways. We don’t have to design a whole new conduit system to get all the connectivity signaling that we need, and we are then using the Contact Relay Panels for outlets in the Raceway which can handle automated lights or LED fixtures. We do this because even if these fixtures are not emitting any light, they may still be powered on and need to cycle-off properly.”

Once the dimming elements were in place, Swift and Graham next turned their attention to the lighting console that would control the lighting. For this, they did not have to look very far as they decided to once again go with Philips Strand Lighting and a Palette VL control console.

“For me, the Strand consoles are the only viable consoles on any type of project of this nature,” admitted Swift. “The way Strand consoles are set-up is incredible and every time I see one in operation, or every time I get to use one, I like them more and more. They are extremely powerful and flexible and usually when you have these two things together, you also get extremely difficult to operate but that’s not the case with the Palette consoles. They are intuitive and the key is in the cueing. When you are in tech rehearsal and rattling off numbers to the board op, they have to be able to input the numbers, change any timing values, and record the changes very quickly. A Palette console lets you do this without any unnecessary key strokes and that is enormously beneficial.”

Graham agreed, “I personally have been in this business for a number of years going all the way back to the use of resistance dimmers. I’ve seen all kinds of lighting boards and consoles and the first time I saw a Palette console during a dealer demonstration, I thought to myself ‘wait a minute, I think I could actually run this console.’ It’s that intuitive, and if I can run a console, that’s saying something.”

Now complete, the Buford Community Center, Town Park and Theatre officially opened in August 2012. With a full-time technical staff overseeing the operations of the Sylvia Beard Theatre, both Swift and Graham are positive that the Philips Strand Lighting dimming and controls equipment will easily handle all their lighting needs, and may even hold a few nice surprises as well.

“One of the biggest advantages to me is that with an IGBT dimming system, the fixtures do not produce any filament hum, and that is a very good thing,” added Graham. “When you have a lighting system in a theatre or concert hall you still have to dim the house lights and control the light levels onstage. All the dimmers will be operating as usual and the last thing anyone wants is background noise coming from fixtures themselves. It’s extremely important to have quiet dimming and there are significant advantages across the board with an IGBT dimming system.”

IGBT dimmers work in tandem with a dedicated microprocessor to control almost any type of lighting load and are completely silicon-based so that they operate silently without the use of chokes, and they do not produce any mechanical buzz or hum associated with other dimmers. The R21 Powered Raceway is an ideal extension of IGBT dimming because they can be mixed and matched as needed to create a completely flexible lighting system to meet the needs of any installation.

Swift concluded, “Another benefit of IGBT is that it is forward phase compatible. As LED technology becomes even more useful in both cyc lights and with fixtures capable of longer throw distances, we believe that there will be a time when there will be few or no conventional fixtures in these venues. While some may say IGBT is an unproven technology, we do extensive follow-up with all our contractors and clients, and reliability is not an issue with IGBT, and that defines an IGBT system.”

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