Old Building, New Twist Aids Firms Communications

March 26, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Design Plus has added a technological twist to its historic building. The building that once housed the Grand Rapids Art Museum at 230 E. Fulton St. is full of modern technology, but still maintains the integrity of the original architecture. Its most recent technological addition has been what the company calls a life-sized 3-D imaging system.

The system’s basic components are a 26-by-6-foot screen, three projectors, a customized computer, and a remote control that brings them all together. The screen drops down, blocking the windows of the Design Plus main conference room, and the lights softly dim. The three projectors that are strategically aligned and hung above the conference table light up and produce one continuous image on the screen. The image also can be broken into two to three images, displaying, for instance, the Internet, blue prints and a 3-D image of the space being worked on all at once.

The system was built mainly using “off the shelf” equipment, said Jon Anunson, who works in architecture and visualization for Design Plus and also built the customized computer that creates the image for the projectors.

Arlen H. Smith, president of Central Interconnect, an audio visual systems integration company and main designer behind the project, said Design Plus did not plan on building such a comprehensive system, but the team found more and more capabilities for what they were building and decided to continue with it.

In the end, the company built a system for which oil or automotive companies would easily spend six figures — for under $60,000, said Anunson.

Design Plus specializes in architecture, interior design, landscape architecture and land planning, mechanical and electrical engineering, and construction administration. This system helps the company bring it all together and communicate a multitude of information in one easy-to-swallow dose.

James F. Horman, partner and director of business development for Design Plus, commented on the functionality of the system and its ability to bring people related to a project on all different levels to the same page.

“We use the system in a lot of ways,” said Horman. “We’re really big on communication. Everything we design has to be communicated to clients and contractors and venders and consultants. We use the technology to convey a lot of information at one time.”

“And you don’t have 10 board members crowded around one monitor,” said Smith.

When the architectural software used by the company is integrated into the system, it becomes highly interactive. Spaces can be changed “in real time” and convey a better sense of what it is like to experience the spaces being worked on. Multiple people can bring in laptops and plug into the system, which delivers information to people much faster, said Anunson.

Horman believes another benefit of the imaging system is that it helps the communication process by permitting clients to react to a project and give better feedback on what they are looking for. The size of the screen and ambient sound is especially helpful when presenting large projects such as colleges or universities.

“When we do campus master planning, you can put a lot of campus on this screen and then navigate it. When you’re talking about so many buildings and walks and drives and parking areas and fields at one time, that’s very helpful.”

Another piece of helpful technology used by the company is its video teleconferencing room. Off the main lobby is a conference room full of discreet technology. There is a Web cam mounted on the wall near the end of the conference table to give clients the feeling of sitting in the room. The camera rotates and zooms in close enough for clients to view the touch-screen computer that they also can control from their own computers. A shotgun microphone picks up all the sound of the room so no individual microphones need to be used. A projection screen drops down from the ceiling and rests just above the Web cam to give people in the Design Plus office a view of those they are conferencing with.

Anunson said the interactive teleconferencing helps communicate with distant clients, and since architects and engineers don’t have to travel, it saves on cost and time.

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