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Sent on Mormon-News: 12Apr01

By Kent Larsen

Another Article Laud's LDS Conference Center

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The new Conference Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has again attracted the lauditory gaze of an industry publication. This time, Entertainment Design looked at the building as an entertainment auditorium, reviewing the challenges that its architects and engineers faced in designing what is surely the most complex building that the LDS Church has ever constructed. The story of its construction dates to 1995, when LDS architects Leland Gray and Kerry Neilson took a theatre design seminar from S. Leonard Auerbach at Harvard. That led to Auerbach's company, Auerbach + Associates, consulting on the project.

From the beginning, the project had multiple goals as the Conference Center was seen to have multiple uses and roles in the community. "The intent of the architecture is to transform the building into landscape by creating a series of terraces that respond to the dramatically sloping site. The solution essentially doubles the size of the urban park-like quality of Temple Square; the terraces create a garden setting that enables the building to participate in the life of the city throughout the year," says a brief from the architects. Auerbach says the Church "wanted a space to hold their General Conference, their main time of communication with their members." But he adds the objective was also "to get 21,000 people into one space without having it look like a sports arena."

After he was brought on the project, Auerbach's team attended the Hill Cumorah pageant to get a feel for how the Church operated large events. There they saw the social aspect of LDS events, "The pageant in Palmyra is a major social event," notes Auerbach. "The audience is greeted by missionaries who talk to you about the Church, so we couldn't deal with this as a normal theatrical space where you just go in and out."

The project went through several configurations, including anywhere from 18,000 to 30,000 seats. In addition to the seating, the building had to accommodate seats for the 352-voice Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a rostrum of 158-seats for general authorities -- more than 500 people on stage. "If we had made this a permanent structure, it would have been as high as a five-story building," says Auerbach. But the seating on the stage and the first 40 feet of seating can be removed to accommodate other events, and, in spite of its size, no seat is more than 270 feet from the pulpit. Overall, author Lampert-Greaux says "The auditorium itself . . . has a surprising sense of intimacy and warmth."

The article also looks at the building's sound system, noting that the building had two separate and potentially conflicting goals because it needs to accommodate both spoken word and music. "For this it needs to be intimate, so the acoustics were designed with a short reverb time, like a lecture hall," says Byron Bishop, project manager/sound system for acoustical subcontractor Jaffe Holden. "But for performances by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a longer reverb time is needed." To solve this, Bishop says the building essentially has two sound systems. "In effect there are two distinct systems," says Bishop. "Crisp and clear for the spoken voice, and a more acoustic environment that gives the sense of being in a concert hall with reflective surfaces." Also complicating the system was the need to prevent feedback, requiring DSP computer-chips to process the sound and remove feedback. With 400 loudspeakers driven by a variety of amplifiers, DSP units and mixing boards, tuning the system was complex. Bishop says he spent two weeks getting it right, "I got a pedometer and logged 76 miles walking around the building in those two weeks."

Meanwhile, Auerbach's team designed the lighting system. "This is the largest theatrical lighting system we know of in the world," says Auerbach. But the Church didn't want anything too cutting edge, he says. "The client wanted an assurance that what we did was going to work, and they asked us to use proven technology-no prototypes and no products under development." The resulting system is designed with a fully redundant control network and a dedicated backup so that the system can't fail. It includes a UPS power supply backed up by a generator. And the system can draw a lot of electricity, if put to the test, "We -- as well as Utah Power and Light -- just don't recommend that you [turn every light on maximum]."

Lampert-Greaux's article also looks at the smaller, 911-seat theatre in the Center and the broadcast facilities. She ends the article, saying, "Somewhere in the Mormon scriptures is a prophecy that one day they would have a building so big there will be trees and water on top of it. Coincidentally, there is a 75' height restriction for buildings in Salt Lake City, so part of this new complex is built into the hillside, providing access to the roof where the architects have built a plaza with fountains and trees. Divine planning, some might say."


21,000 Seats, But Who's Counting?
Entertainment Design 1Apr01 B1
By Ellen Lampert-Greaux

Other Articles on LDS Conference Center:
Church's 22,000-Seat Hall Is an Open and Shut Case

New Structure Symbolizes Mormon Growth

New LDS Conference Center Construction Detailed in Civil Engineering (A sound assembly)

LDS Conference Center Sound and Video System Featured in Broadcast Engineering


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