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The Pilot House at Pier Wisconsin

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

One of the goals for Discovery World at Pier Wisconsin was to build a facility able to serve as a technical benchmark for Wisconsin corporations, universities and government.

“A lot of people see us as a museum, where you’d come and see technology on exhibit,” explains Chuck Aumann, technical director for the facility. “But if you look behind the scenes, you’ll find an organization that actually runs on that same technology. We’re showing corporate America how their conference rooms can link with two way communications, whether they use it our facility themselves on a rental basis or watch us conference back to our ship, the Dennis Sullivan.”

The meeting space in the Pilot House, which features a 360-degree view of the city and Lake Michigan, is a key component of that mission. Lewis Sound and Video served as the acoustical consultant and systems integrator. We designed and built an AV system using:

  • Two Christie 1080P projectors providing 7,000 lumens brightness
  • Tab-tensioned 9′ x 16′ screens
  • A distributed sound system using 41 JBL loudspeakers
  • AudiaFLEX digital signal processors
  • A selection of wired and wireless microphones
  • Crestron controls

Architects Hammel, Green and Abrahamson specified a ceiling of Newmat PVC membrane, which stretches to a white, pearlescent surface. Its use allowed us to keep the 41 loudspeakers needed completely invisible. “I brought the material in house, mocked it up and did testing to verify that we could indeed punch the sound through it,” explains Henry Lewis.

Planners also asked Lewis Sound to keep AV components out of the way of the beautiful views. “Our design originally had a 3′ x 5′ rack room,” says Lewis, “but we ended up building the rack into a wall to save space, even changing some of the components to gain an extra 4 – 6″ of depth.” Aumann adds that “one of the most inspiring parts of the concept is also its biggest problem: that 360 degrees of glass yields an enormous amount of light, especially over the lake. The Christie projectors are the brightest available that you can hang from a ceiling. They need to be to carry off the program in the environment they’re in.”

So much glass also presented a major challenge with reverb. “We were able to deal with the issue,” Lewis explains, “with acoustical ceilings, acoustical floors, very careful speaker placement and essentially variable acoustics in a motorized curtaining system, which not only darkens the room but absorbs excess sound energy. “

Audio and video quality were critical because of the high demands placed on the room. In addition to standard sources such as DVD and computer inputs, the room includes MediaSite and V-Brick webcasting systems and fiber optic links to Milwaukee Public Television, the Internet, and the other presentation rooms and classrooms in the facility.

“Our meeting space is able to provide a venue locally to 400 or 500 people in the Pilot House,” Aumann says, “but it can also reach out and connect you to other corporate locations, other universities and the public via the Internet or broadcast television. We wanted to be cutting edge, not only what we’re showing and exhibiting, but in what we’re teaching, what the clientele experiences and what we’re able to benchmark to corporate America.”