A hot new place to shop is Michael K., a hip hop emporium filled with cool clothes and shoes for intrepid urban explorers, with brands ranging from Nike, Puma, and The North Face to Adidas, Sean Jean Blue, Ben Sherman, Lacoste, and Polo Jeans. Located on lower Broadway in New York City's Soho district, Michael K. measures 22,000 sq. ft., and looks as much like a nightclub as a boutique.
Designed by Vlad Zadneprianski of Tobin + Parnes Design Enterprises, with lighting by Christien Methot of Design One and audio/visual systems by David Bianciardi of Audio, Visual & Controls (all New York City-based firms), Michael K. greets visitors with stainless steel finishes, a conveyor belt moving merchandise overhead, media walls, a DJ booth, and loud music. Color-changing LEDs by Color Kinetics are part of a multi-layered lighting rig that includes automated fixtures by Clay Paky and Elation to add colorful patterns to the kinetic ambiance of the store. “The goal was to create lighting that could convert into a nightclub on command and with as much impact as possible to get you into the club setting, yet with as little impact as possible in terms of seeing the equipment. It, then, must be restored quickly to a retail environment,” says Methot.
There are three layers to the lighting scheme: white light for the retail experience; the automated club lighting; and the color-changing LEDs used in both instances. “During the retail hours the LEDs create slow-morphing or static colors,” he notes. “In club mode, there is more excitement to them. You can even control them to the beat of the music via the AV control system.” The LEDs are, in fact, everywhere at Michael K.: from long ribbons of iColor® Cove recessed into the floor to iColor Cove systems installed in soffits under the ceiling to mimic the floor and echo the rainbow effect. The stainless interior accents are washed with ColorBlast® systems.
The LEDs were programmed using Color Kinetic's ColorPlay® software and stored on eight iPlayer® 2 devices. A Horizon control system by Entertainment Technology/Genlyte controls the moving lights and Leviton dimmers. The DMX control protocol (a total of 11 universes) is managed via a Pathway Connectivity Ethernet Pathport® system.
“The owner had used Color Kinetics in another store and wanted the ability to sweep color though the space,” says Methot (the owner being Haim Kedmi; Michael is his middle name — therefore, Michael K.) “We designed the iColor Cove series RGB 6” and 12” lengths into the floor and ceiling coves that spanned from Broadway to Crosby. Over 2,000 pieces were used to complete the project.” Sound simple? Nothing is ever as simple as it sounds.
After the systems were installed, Methot began to realize there were glitches. It was late in the game, almost too late, he says, when the problems became apparent. “In a nutshell, anytime you were running an iPlayer program and added a moving lights program from the Horizon Ethernet node, the moving lights would respond in a jerky manner and the iPlayers would eventually crash and need to be reset,” he explains. “If you turned off the iPlayer program, the moving lights would move smoothly.”
Methot was not sure what was causing the problem. “We were pretty sure that it had something to do with the DMX over Ethernet system and the communication between the Color Kinetics iPlayers and the Pathport® system from Pathway Connectivity,” he notes.
The systems integrator on the project, Audio, Video & Controls, remained in constant contact with Pathway Connectivity in Calgary, Canada. “They were sending the configuration file for the Pathport® system to Pathway for analysis. Pathway would then update something about the programming and send it back. Inevitably, something else would fail, and they would need to try again,” Methot says.
“After many software updates, they agreed to send ScharffWeisberg Lighting in to test the physical wiring. This way, they would know for sure what they were up against. SWL did find some minor issues with the wiring and re-terminated some Ethernet cables in the control room and in the field at some of the Pathway nodes,” Methot continues.
What could have been done to avoid this problem? “I think this is not something that you can predict,” Methot adds. “As designers and specifiers, we always hesitate to specify something that we have not specified before. This was the case for us with the Pathport® system. We have specified it since, and it has been great.”
Gary Douglas, manager of network products at Pathway Connectivity helped solve the problem. “There were some issues as soon as they began commissioning the system,” he says. “I think these issues were magnified by a lot of miscommunication and the difficulty of pin-pointing the exact problems.” He agrees with Methot that cabling and configuration were the culprits. “They were sending data into the Pathport network box, but it wasn't coming out the way they expected,” Douglas notes, pointing out that the Pathport software pulls the system together so that the LEDs are run by the right controller at the right time.
“The first thing we discovered was that they had a high-end version Ethernet switch that was better suited to an office environment and was causing part of the problem,” he says. “It seemed to be turning the data off for some reason. We removed the switch, and things got better.” Even so, certain sections of the LED runs were still not responding to the DMX correctly. “We discovered that the configuration in the Pathport was backwards,” says Douglas. “They had reversed the patch so that channel one controlled address 512 and not the other way around.”
After this was repaired, things improved even more, although some of the DMX still dropped out. This time, the cables were targeted. Ron Brodeur from ScharffWeisberg in New York City came in to take a look and found that certain cables hadn't been terminated correctly. This was sorted out, along with a new Ethernet switch for the connection between the Horizon DMX output node and the rack-mounted PC. “The Ethernet received by the output nodes was choppy,” notes Douglas.
“The lesson to be learned,” he says, “is that your system is only as good as your cable installer and your IT guy. If you don't know how to troubleshoot the system yourself, make sure to hire someone who is in the comfort zone. Today's systems are very network heavy.” Douglas also recommends planning properly and asking manufacturers what they recommend in terms of switches.
“We were in the dark trying to troubleshoot from up here in Canada, far from the job site.” Douglas adds. “If we had come in earlier and seen the drawings, we could have been more helpful up front. [If Pathway had been involved] before crunch time, it would have saved a lot of stress and money in the end.”
Michael K. incorporates a nightclub feel into the shopping experience in Manhattan's Soho district.