Worcester, MA – History resonates throughout Worcester City Hall and the surrounding common area. It was from this spot on July 14, 1776, that the Declaration of Independence was first read in New England. Tradition has clearly enriched this ornate granite building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, but at times, it has also created special challenges.
Such was the case recently, when Worcester wanted to build a City Hall broadcast studio. Unable to expand the size of their historic structure outwardly, city leaders were forced to turn inward, creating their new studio in the building’s basement. They did this in spectacular fashion, thanks to a skillful design by Jonathan Lipsy that drew on the performance features of CHAUVET Professional LED fixtures.
“The basement wasn’t the first option, but it turned out to be the only option for the studio,” said Lipsy, who is Manager of Broadcast & Lighting for the Integrated Solutions Group. “When the city team brought me in, they were asking many questions about whether or not the basement would be a viable solution. Once I explained how wonderful we could make the room look and function, they agreed and moved forward with the project.”
That project involved creating an 18’ wide by 25’ long studio divided into two sets: one for interviews and news shows, the other for standing podium speeches and two-seat “pub-height” one-on-ones. Running over the entire studio is a 10’ pipe grid with a 9’ curtain track. The low ceiling and the dual set arrangement in a confined area made it essential to have tightly focused lights with no spill.
“Because of the limitations of the size of the room, the dual set layout and the height of the pipe grid, I needed to be very aware of my space and how the fixtures were positioned,” said Lipsy. “If I was slightly off with my positioning or angle of illumination, one fixture would begin to obstruct the illumination of another fixture.”
Using 12” and 18” drop-down arms, Lipsy created separate and distinct lighting levels for each of the two sets. The lighting for the left (news) set passes over or around the lighting for the right (podium) set, which was positioned at a lower level.
“If we did not vary levels of the fixtures, the lighting would have been at too great of an angle, causing extended shadows. If this happened, the talent would look… well, let’s say, not as beautiful as they should,” said Lipsy. “Of course to make this setup work effectively, we needed fixtures that provided exacting beam angle control.”
The fixtures Lipsy selected for this task included eight Ovation F-95WW LED Fresnels for the front key lights and eight COLORado Batten 144 Tour LED units for uplighting, as well as a collection of LED studio lights and fluorescent key lights for the news/interview set. In the podium set he used four COLORdash Par-Quad 18 par style fixtures for a front wash and eight COLORdash Par-Quad 7 fixtures for hair/separation lighting, accent lighting and curtain washing.
“I looked at a variety of fixtures, but the Chauvets offered the control I wanted and the correct amount of illumination for the grid height I was working with,” he said. “Since the sets were slightly closer together than I’m normally used to, I also wanted the Chauvet fixtures because they had a harder cut off on the edges and didn’t allow the light to bleed into other areas. With other fixtures in the past, I’ve had to use modifiers such as scrims and flags to control the light. With the Chauvet units, I did not need these things, which was good — because I would not have been able to use them in my design, since the grid is so tight with fixtures and obstacles.”
Among the obstacles that Lipsy faced was dealing with the brick and mortar vaulted ceiling that was prone to crumbling if not treated properly. This presented a difficult challenge in hanging the pipe grid, power distribution and curtain system. Also, many of the building’s gas, power and water lines run along the basement’s ceiling, which created something of an obstacle course that had to be worked around.
The largest challenge, however, was encouraging the city to keep the room’s granite wall. “They were planning on installing sheet rock to cover up the wall, but I was able to convince them that the granite wall would be beautiful once it was cleaned up,” said Lipsy. “After the wall was sandblasted and covered with a clear protective coating, it became an artistic background. Once we added the Chauvet COLORado Batten 144’s on the floor for uplights, the wall came alive even more and everyone was mesmerized by its beauty. The granite wall has to be one of the best features I have seen in a studio. Many of my other customers now want to copy this look, but Worcester City Hall has the real deal in their studio and they are very pleased to have it.”