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Great Hall, Great Lighting

Courtesy Town Hall

ETC lighting and controls transform Seattle’s Town Hall performance center

Town Hall is a unique arts hub and performance center in Seattle. Though the organization has an ambitious mission to present a “present-tense reflection” of the Puget Sound, it is housed in a historic building that needed upgrades. ETC lighting and controls technology played a big role in transforming the space into a state-of-the-art center offering access to the arts for the next century.

Originally a Church of Christ, Scientist, the terra-cotta clad building was constructed from 1916-1922. It functioned as a church until 1998, when Town Hall bought it. The building sports a unique central dome complete with a decorative oculus to match the large art-glass windows in the Great Hall. It was beloved and well used, but it was showing its age and did not have an air conditioning (HVAC) system, which prevented them from operating in the warmer months.

In addition to such patron amenities as new restrooms and easier ADA access, it also needed seismic stabilization and an HVAC system. The new performance lighting fixtures and controls would have to compete with all of that for space. Making sure the upgrade happened smoothly was handled by an all-star team of designers, contractors, and suppliers. 

Courtesy Town Hall

THE GREAT HALL

The Great Hall occupies the second floor and is Town Hall’s largest venue, with space for up to 850. It features stained glass windows under a domed ceiling with curved wooden pews for seating. It’s a beautiful space, with a lot of pride behind it. It was up to Adam Shalleck, FAIA, principal at The Shalleck Collaborative theatre consultancy, to create a performance lighting approach and system that would honor and celebrate the space and work into the new acoustic canopy — while also being economical, easy to maintain, and simple to adjust. 

 “The prime mission of Town Hall is to deliver lectures and concerts at very accessible ticket prices –  scholarly discourse and culture at a low cost. What goes along with that is simplicity of operation. What goes along with that is a system that is fiscally responsible, yet flexible enough to have choices on a per-show basis using more or less a house plot.” says Shalleck. 

The system he came up with use a Sensor IQ panel to feed a host of Source Four LED Series 2 and Desire D40 Studio LED fixtures controlled by an Element 2 console, and an Echo Relay panel for architectural and emergency circuits. The production lighting positions built into the dome of the Great Hall was a controversial decision at first. The dome in the Great Hall is such an important design element that at first the team didn’t want to do disturb its iconic look. They considered hanging a rig from points in the ceiling to avoid changing it at all — but realized that the rig would block the view of the very thing they were trying to protect.

“I suggested subtracting some plaster to make position openings in the dome — which made the architects very nervous at first!” laughs Shalleck. “But it had to happen. The geometries of the space necessitated it. We did surgery to the dome in discreet ways and saved the cost of having moving elements, or the time and cost of multiple technicians needing to come in with ladders and lifts for every focus. Because of the geometry of the plaster and limited access capability in the attic at the high sides, I used City Theatrical “Beam Bender” accessories, one of the many built for Source4’s, so the fixtures remain in the attic where they are reachable and out of view and only the mirrors hang into the space.”

This is also where Source Four LED fixtures were a lifeline. Relay panels require less space than traditional dimmer enclosures, and you can do more with fewer fixtures thanks to their color-changing capabilities. This was important because they had to squeeze all the lighting equipment around the new HVAC system in the attic, were constrained to limited openings, and needed enough room for people to still access the positions.

“They also asked us to make the room ready for broadcast, so there’s a non-live layer of lighting that is appropriate for video. Here too it was important to design in these positions to preserve the austere design intent of the historic Great Hall.”

A Unison Paradigm system controls the house lights. Lucrecia Blanco of Blanca Designs designed the house lights for Town Hall, and worked to preserve the historic feel of the space while combining it with modern day controls. The house lighting for the Great Hall uses the historic fixtures of with new LED lamps.

“It has a historic flavor and now it looks stunning,” says Blanco. “I wanted to have a large number of zones, so the users could reconfigure things if they needed to. I also wanted to make sure it was easy to train the users on the system. I wanted all the bells and whistles of a good architectural controls system. With ETC I got everything I was looking for.”

Courtesy Town Hall

FORUM

The Forum occupies the first floor of the building and is a more flexible space. It can act as a presentation room, banquet room, or even a performance space. With all of those possibilities it  needed a lighting system that was just as flexible. Shalleck chose ColorSource Spot and PAR fixtures, controlled with a ColorSource 20 console. (All ETC gear was supplied by Stagecraft PLS.)

One thing that the Forum didn’t have to contend with was preserving a historic look to the same degree as upstairs. The low ceiling meant the lighting instruments and infrastructure became a part of the aesthetic. Cable trays are laid out in a thoughtful manner, the Unistrut is patterned and organized so it looks purposeful and those things combined prevents a ceiling full of “spaghetti,” in the words of Shalleck.

“It took a dialogue with the architect to make them appreciate that theatrical fixtures, connections and labor — if left as an afterthought — would get messy. The architects appreciated that and so we worked together to make it look intentional.”

“The aesthetic in the Forum is generally neutralized so the focus is on the presenters and elevates their presence. The Great Hall is the opposite,” finishes Shalleck. “It’s meant to evoke the feeling that we are all in this beautiful, extraordinary space.” And ETC was an integral part of making that vision come to life.

GEAR LIST

Grand Hall

Element 2 Console

34 Source Four LED Series 2

22 Desire D40 Studio LED

Paradigm Architectural Controls, with touchscreen controllers, light and occupancy sensors,

ETCpad

Echo Relay Panel Feed-Through

Sensor IQ Panel

Emergency Bypass Detection Kit

DMX Emergency Bypass Controller

Forum

ColorSource Console 20

12 ColorSource Spot

12 ColorSource PAR

Paradigm Architectural Control

Echo Relay Panel Feed-Through

Sensor IQ Panel

Emergency Bypass Detection Kit

DMX Emergency Bypass Controller