Occidental College’s Century-Old Lecture Hall is Reborn with VARIA

May 11, 2014

Los Angeles, CA | May, 2014 – Occidental College is known as one of America’s oldest liberal arts colleges, with a stellar alumni list that includes President Barack Obama, actors Ben Affleck and Joanna Gleason, animator/filmmaker Terry Gilliam, athlete-turned-politician Jack Kemp, and many more.

Johnson Hall is one of the college’s three original buildings, constructed in 1914. After a year-long, multi-million dollar renovation, the hall has recently reopened as a high-tech digital media center, home to the McKinnon Family Center for Politics and Global Affairs. The building’s atrium boasts a two-story media wall with curved glass panels and multiple video screens, and the 200-seat Choi Auditorium has undergone an extensive transformation, being literally turned on its end.

“It was the college’s desire to change the orientation of the room, to rotate it 90 degrees,” explains Scott Walker of Mission Viejo, CA-based Walker Electronic Systems. “They took out all the existing flooring and rebuilt it, transforming it from a narrow, deep space with steep, raked seating, to a wide space with the seating much closer in an less steeply raked. It has a much more intimate feel.”

Aside from lectures, the room was often being called upon to host more media-intensive presentations, including movies, convocations, and other events. As Walker observes, these factors all created a different set of priorities for the sound system design, and Walker opted for a system centered around the new VARIA modular point source line array from Renkus-Heinz.

The 7.1 surround configuration employs left, center, and right arrays of two VARIA VA101 cabinets each, utilizing the VARIA’s transitional waveguides to create a customized coverage pattern. Additional single VA101 boxes cover left and right side and rear surround channels. A PNX212 subwoofer provides low frequency reinforcement.”The VARIA system gave us a nice wide coverage pattern, and the flexibility to customize the coverage in the room,” says Walker. “Ultimately, that enabled us to use fewer cabinets to accomplish the same job.”

The room’s acoustics have always been more than acceptable, and the plan was to retain the best aspects and add some improvements. “It’s a very dead room — not a lot reflectivity to deal with,” says Walker. “In reorienting the room like this, they were able to keep all of the acoustical integrity of the wood-paneled walls and the ceiling, while rebuilding the floor and seating, and adding some additional acoustical treatment to the walls.”

With the addition of a Panasonic HD video projector and an Extron SSP 7.1 processor, the room has been transformed into a state-of-the-art theater for movies, power points, and other multimedia presentations. “For lectures and spoken word events, the system runs in mono,” says Walker. For other presentations, the system can be reconfigured for stereo or surround operation at the touch of a button.

“The VARIA system was ideally suited for this application,” says Walker. “I’ve worked with Renkus-Heinz products for years, and they’ve become my go-to loudspeaker solution. The addition of VARIA makes it even easier for me to find something that fits almost any need.”