An Unparalleled Tech Pavilion: The State-of-the-Art Excentricité at College La Cité

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Professional Sound

By Andrew King

College La Cité has long boasted a reputation as a hub of innovation and forward thinking, though with its recent unveiling of a new technical marvel in the middle of its main Ottawa campus, the acclaimed applied arts and technology institution may have propelled said reputation to an entirely new plateau.

Officially opened on Sept. 7, 2018, Excentricité is a one-of-a-kind educational facility – a $30 million, 34,000-sq.-ft. immersive technology and entrepreneurship pavilion designed to spur interdisciplinary learning, collaboration, entrepreneurship, and idea sharing in infinite capacities.

The central element of Excentricité, both literally and figuratively, is The Studio – a 4,000-sq.-ft. main space that can be reconfigured for a wide variety of applications, including fully immersive multimedia experiences thanks to its 360-degree projection capabilities and other state-of-the-art audiovisual technologies.

“Excentricité was born of an idea from our President and CEO, Lise Bourgeois, as a place where we could bring different disciplines and people and ideas together – technology and art, students and entrepreneurs – to generate creativity in one place that can then extend to other parts of the college and into the world,” says Suzanne Gibault, the executive director of La Cité’s Office of Ideation and Creativity.

Her colleague Yves Bourgeois, the college’s technical expert, took charge on the initial concept drawing of what would become The Studio based on input from the various stakeholders on how they envisioned the project coming together.

The idea, Gibault continues, was to make it a space unlike any other, which aligns with the college’s reputation for innovation, and that’s not just in terms of its physical makeup and facilities. It’s also the underlying idea of uniting people – students, faculty, entrepreneurs, and other partners from the external community – and fostering a culture of creativity and forward thinking.

To achieve that, she and her team work closely with Réjean Thibault, the VP of business development and student affairs, and support his community and business outreach efforts…

… Lawrence St-Onge is a senior consultant with Engineering Harmonics, the reputable Toronto-rooted audiovisual consulting firm with offices in major centres across the country. He was regularly interfacing with different vendors in choosing the right AV components to facilitate all of the space’s desired functions, working in close collaboration with Yves Bourgeois and his team.

With Bourgeois’ background being primarily in IT, he and St-Onge travelled to AV-focused events like the NAB Show and InfoComm at the outset of the process to get better acquainted with some of the potential solutions for Excentricité. “We had lots of back-and-forth communication throughout the process,” St-Onge notes.

In addition to his work with Engineering Harmonics, St-Onge also operates LSO Consulting Inc., his own media technologies consulting firm. As such, he has taken on some significant projection-based projects, including the TIFF Bell Lightbox, arguably the epicentre of cinema in Canada, as well as a number of immersive and virtual reality applications, and thus brought a wealth of previous experience with these types of technologies to Excentricité – which he can now add to his list of credits.

He offers praise to Patrick Roy and his team at CBCI Telecom Ottawa, including Sales Engineer Gaetan Laniel and Project Manager Bianca Saumier, for their unwavering support and dedication throughout the process. CBCI Telecom was tasked with the AV systems integration while the project was underway and dove right in, offering plenty of input on the various system designs and the solutions that would best suit the intended applications. “They were a big help in providing the expertise we needed to get this done on time, with a lot of moving parts,” says St-Onge.

With offices across Canada, CBCI Telecom is a leader in the design and integration of unified communications and collaboration technology. The company’s Ottawa office, and Roy in particular, is a long-time partner of La Cité, having collaborated on many projects over the years.

The building itself is essentially a rotunda with plenty of natural light (when desired) thanks to massive windows wrapping much of its façade. It can host over 1,200 guests when used in its most basic configuration as an open concept meeting and gathering space; however, a series of retractable air walls can be deployed in various other configurations for a slew of different educational, social, and collaborative applications – presentations, concerts, galas, film screenings, masterclasses, but most significantly (and impressively), fully immersive multimedia experiences with its 360-degree projection set-up boasting a 252-ft. screen.

For these types of presentations, the air walls enclose the centre of The Studio in a square, leaving two semi-circular spaces surrounding that square open as lobbies or gathering spaces. What’s more, the main presentation space has retractable bleacher-style seating that can be deployed as desired.

Considering the seemingly limitless number of configurations and applications, Engineering Harmonics and, later, CBCI Telecom faced a significant challenge with designing the various audiovisual systems occupying The Studio.

In addition to a line array-based performance PA system, the space actually hosts two separate but equally elaborate and specialized audio systems with different intended uses, though components of those two systems can operate in tandem…

… The video is relayed by a series of Barco projectors – a single UDX-4K32, which would be the go-to for more typical, single-projector applications – plus 12 UDX-W22s to cover the rest of the 360-degree surface with seamless edge blending.

CBCI Telecom also worked closely with Joliette, QC-based manufacturer Strong MDI to customize a new generation of electric screens. The modular motorized screens were custom manufactured for this project in sizes ranging from 24 to 56 ft., all including additional safety features like redundant cabling and double brakes…

… CBCI Telecom tapped Quebec City-based consultant Pierre-Paul Gignac to oversee the Dante functionality across the various systems, and he later became a permanent part of the team, assisting with the implementation and programming of the various systems.

One of the major challenges the team faced throughout the design that extends to Roy and his team at CBCI Telecom’s integration work was fitting the sheer number of technological components into the ceiling space above The Studio. In addition to the Soundscape system and projectors, there’s also a considerable complement of performance lighting fixtures, and all had to coexist without obscuring any others. That meant a lot of time spent in AutoCAD for CBCI Telecom, Engineering Harmonics, and MCLD.

“Excentricité is a truly incredible facility,” shares Roy. “The scope and sophistication of the various AV systems meant we had our work cut out for us, especially with the tight timeline, but it was a team effort between everyone. We worked very closely together adapting the design to ensure it met everybody’s needs and expectations and then bringing it all to life in time.”

While Excentricité celebrated its grand opening in early September, the college foundation’s annual Bal Vert et Blanc (Green and White Ball) on Oct. 20th offered its guests a more robust preview of The Studio’s unique capabilities.

Over 300 guests experienced the various audio systems as a flamenco guitarist moved around the room, with different audio mixes from different components for different sections of the space. Of course, a preview of some fully-immersive 360 content was on the agenda, and everyone involved – designers, integrators, and La Cité staff and administrators – was proud to showcase the results of their work. “The ‘wow factor’ when the immersive sound and video came on was great,” recalls Roy, “and a reminder of how special this facility is.”

Excentricité is a remarkably powerful teaching tool, though its capabilities extend to countless other applications. In addition to enhancing the institution’s various existing programs, it also offers new learning opportunities in itself, with potential to train students and outside visitors on the sophisticated technologies within it.

“This new creative space will … contribute to the economic and socio-cultural development of the entire community and to the promotion of Francophone talents ready to change tomorrow, here in the province and elsewhere on the planet,” said Lise Bourgeois, president and CEO of La Cité, to the gathered guests.

It’s a lofty goal, to be sure, but so was the conception, design, and realization of this one-of-a-kind pavilion, and suffice it to say, it more than makes the grade.

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