Lower Manhattan's Winter Garden Rebounds from September 11 with Revamped Entertainment Systems

Early last September, Pomona, NY-based Todd Berling Design was putting the finishing touches on the first phase of a $1.8-million capital improvements project for New York's Winter Garden. The vaulted glass atrium, the public space and showplace of Lower Manhattan's World Financial Center, is used for upwards of 100 cultural events per year. Principal Todd Berling says the technical systems design consultancy work that the building's owner, Brookfield Financial Properties, had hired his firm for a year earlier was proceeding satisfactorily: The audio and rigging installation was completed, just in time for a Canadian arts festival at the site, with two more phases, lighting and platforming, to go.

He would not see the Winter Garden again until November. What he saw was devastation. One of downtown's most beloved structures since its 1988 opening, the Winter Garden was now a junk heap of crushed steel and shattered glass. The collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11 obliterated the footbridge that linked the Winter Garden to the twin towers and crumpled the building's east side. Thankfully there had been no casualties among the renovation crew, though much of the work Berling's firm had done was lost in the rubble. Alan Abrams, the technical director of the Winter Garden's arts and events department, describes his own dismaying first walkthrough of the ruined forum: “It was eerie. My base of operations is our audio room, and our coffee cups and newspapers were just as we had left them after we had been evacuated. Thick dust and inches of standing water covered everything.”

The biggest job Berling's four-year-old firm had been tasked with had just gotten bigger. Brookfield Financial Properties caught the can-do spirit that mobilized Manhattan in the wake of the terror attacks and declared that the Winter Garden would reopen to the public in September 2002. Fifty-four subcontractors and more than 500 workers labored 12-hour days seven days a week to rebuild the 45,000-sq.-ft. facility. With the assistance of Abrams, Jane Clegg, the owner's representative, Berling, and his associates, Donald P. Ardine, Jr. and Bonnie J. Rutski, moved quickly to rebuild the entertainment systems. With the clock a consideration, Berling set to work with a team largely retained from the original capital improvements project, many of them Manhattan-based. “We needed people we could trust, who were responsive and ready, and who were local enough so it that if we needed something on a given day, they could come down here,” Berling says. “If [construction manager and general contractor] Turner Construction, which was rebuilding the structure, had to pour concrete on a Thursday, then that was that. Anyone whose work was affected by those hard-and-fast deadlines needed to have it completed.”

That they did. Berling led Entertainment Design on a tour through the refurbished Winter Garden in late September, just days before its first entertainers in a year, the dance troupe Ailey II, performed.

In a twist of fate, its near-destruction would ultimately leave the Winter Garden with significantly more advanced technology than if the capital improvements project had run its course. The mandate then was to enhance the entertainment systems within the framework of their aging designs. Berling salvaged what he could from the old components, but with many systems beyond repair, he was freer to bring the equipment into the 21st century.

Banks of conduit in the audio room, a chamber located beneath the Winter Garden's grand ornamental stairs, had been destroyed. Lighting and rigging conduit had also been severed. Given the tight schedule, “this whole project became a design build,” Berling says. “Forest Electric, the electrical contractors, was in a dead run to get infrastructure in as we were finishing designs; we were making sure the conduits were being placed correctly as they were tying them up and the concrete started to pour. Such was the schedule that Forest, like many of the contractors, was working from our design drawings, and not from shop drawings, which we prefer. We were confirming our designs with product manufacturers as we went along. In the end it went smoothly, but there was no other way to do it.”

Sound Garden
Berling found new ways to handle the sound requirements of the Winter Garden. With its 10-story-tall dome and 2,000-pane skylight, and prevailing use of “sound-scattering” materials like marble, granite, aluminum, and steel, the space has long been notorious for its poor audio quality. He and Sam Berkow, of consultant SIA Acoustics, developed a scheme to thwart the Winter Garden's “acoustical anomaly.” “The apse skylight dome traps sound, and when it bounces down to ear level it's unintelligible or muddy,” Berling says.

To the rescue are velour acoustical drapes his firm designed, which have been installed by Pook, Diemont & Ohl (PDO). There are two, fabricated by I. Weiss and Sons, that are mounted on track made by H&H Specialties. One, 100'-long by 30'-high, prevents reverberation off the glass behind the performance platform at the Winter Garden's west wall, while a second 40'-wide by 30'-high curtain can be lifted above the grand staircase to prevent sound from bouncing up into the “acoustical anomaly.”

Troy Jensen of Altel Systems designed and built a customized audio system for the room. The audio room, which before 9/11 had 14 racks of antiquated analog-based equipment that “everyone found tedious to use,” Berling says, now has just four, thanks to a new system of Crown Cobranet DSP boxes running Crown IQ software. “It all works at the click of a button on a custom graphical interface,” he adds. “With digital processing we can make changes to the room and send signals throughout it, which we couldn't do before.”

With minimal time delay the DSP boxes convert analog electrical impulses from instruments and microphones into digital bits, so sound reaches an audience's ears with reduced lag time and distortion. The 134 permanently installed loudspeakers in the dome area (many of them Bose 32SE and EAW UB-10MTWP all-weather units, augmented by Technomad Soho subwoofers) are distributed for maximum clarity. Forty are hidden behind air vents, 14 in ceilings, and 80 in the tree pits under the palms. A portable live audio system, designed by David Meschter and Simon Nathan of Nathan/Meschter & Associates, which can put up to 28 speakers around the hall for added punch and a Midas Heritage 1000 mixing console are now in use on the main floor. Further flexibility is ensured by the placement of control panels throughout the atrium, so that audio (and lighting) designers can plug laptops into the floor and wall units for easier system access. “The last thing you want in such a beautiful space is cables snaking across the floor,” Berling says.

Winter Light
Destroyed on 9/11 was the Winter Garden's creaky Kliegl lighting system, a relic of the mid-1980s. The entire mechanical penthouse level, which housed the lighting and dimming systems, was flattened. New rooms have been built at this site. They are adjacent to the Winter Garden's bond beam, which hangs 65' above the atrium and is where the fixtures are mounted and focused. Barbizon Electric of New York provided the lighting equipment and oversaw the installation of the dimming and control system. (The Barbizon team included lead systems integrator Jeff Siegel, senior project manager Craig Fox, project management team members Brian Fassett and Debi Becker, and lead technician Brian Dunn.) The company has installed in place of the Kliegl an all-ETC setup, with a few High End Studio Spots® and Wybron Coloram scrollers added for touches of color and movement during performances.

Barbizon's scope of work also included supplying five ETC SR48 dimmer racks, three Emergency Lighting Transfer cabinets, and two Middle Atlantic WRK network equipment racks with fiber-optic communication between them. The fiber-optic line was landed on a fiber module in a 3Com switch located in each rack.

Berling recreated circuitry in the locations that had been there in the original plan. The bond beam, which has 102 lighting circuits around its perimeter, was replaced. A set of 102 ETC Source Four spotlights, in 19°, 10°, and 5° varieties for enhanced throws across the 180'-long atrium, was supplied (and is augmented by Lycian units). He added 48 circuits at the west end for a new portable stage he has designed for performances there, which was manufactured by Staging Concepts. The circuits allow for drop boxes and multicable breakouts down to trusses, which had never been available before. Fourth Phase has provided 36 Source Fours for the new stage.

The Winter Garden crucially lacked DMX distribution. Berling has installed an ethernet-based lighting control network, ETCNet2, throughout the whole building. “There are nine DMX nodes located at each of the bays around the bond beam and four portable nodes for distribution down to portable lighting trusses and sidelighting booms. We also have remote focusing capability (via ETC Expression® Remote Focus Unit) in every one of the bays up on the upper level, which the building never had before. It's quite a chore going out on the catwalks,” he says. The flexibility of the lighting package extends to the dimming, which is handled by four ETC Sensor dimmer racks and a custom ethernet control rack housed compactly in a new room. The dimmers are expected to play a key role in balancing artificial and natural illumination levels within the Winter Garden, which with the addition of the new glass-facade archway allows more light in than ever before.

Berling worked with Jerry Kugler of Kugler Tillotson on the integration of the architectural and entertainment illumination. “Most of the houselights were controlled through an old GE relay panel,” Berling says. “We ended up taking all the fixtures in the atrium space and running them through the ETC Sensor dimmers and then controlling them via the ETC Unison processor.

The designer is particularly proud that the Winter Garden hosts one of the first permanent installations of ETC's Emphasis with Expression (3D, 2,500 channels) console. “It was so new when we specified it that ETC didn't have a price for it,” Berling recalls. Emphasis brings WYSIWYG to the site, “and we can easily roll it around the room, plug it in, and have control from anywhere,” he says. Ted Ozimek served as the ETC project manager on the job.

PDO (which formerly employed Berling as a senior designer) installed Berling's new rigging, which was manufactured by JR Clancy. “The existing rigging motors were gone,” he says. In their place are 18 new motorized winch assemblies (and all-new cable runs) with a lift capacity of 2,000lbs and a fixed speed of 22' per minute. A computer-controlled pendant allows for simultaneous operation of up to six motors. JR Clancy's Shamrock 2500 is used for rigging control.

President Bush inaugurated the resurrection of the Winter Garden in a gala ceremony held on September 12. A week earlier, the grand reopening had been rehearsed, in a party for the contractors and tradespeople who had worked so diligently to refurbish one of New York's finest. “It was unlike any construction project I've ever worked on,” concludes Berling. “All the trades were working on top of each other, but we were all very much working together.”