Take a 30-year-old sports arena, gut it, and transform it into a 16,000-seat church that broadcasts three television shows a week to more than 225 million households. This is the charge and the trust given by Lakewood Church of Houston, Texas, to Morris Architects and a team of consultants.
Of all the issues inherent in retrofitting an aging arena, the technological elements were particularly challenging. This article describes the audio, video, and infrastructure solutions to the worship needs of the new Lakewood Church. The converted sports stadium will become a live worship center serving about 100,000 people a week, with educational and childcare spaces, plus a broadcast acquisition center and post-production studios. The final installation is one of the most sophisticated and extensive multimedia systems in the world. Yet despite the project’s magnitude, the challenge-solution paradigms apply to a variety of other church and worship settings, large and small.
The project’s solid foundation comes from within – Lakewood Church’s talented in-house crew. Media Director, Jon Swearingen and Audio Director, Reed Hall, together with a full-time staff of a dozen specialists, handle the church’s ongoing media needs. Envisioning the new space for Lakewood Church, Jon, Reed and their colleagues assessed their requirements, drew up a list of items and issues for the arena’s transformation, and began designing and engineering many of the components themselves, from the line arrays to the mixing consoles. Their list of considerations ranged from infrastructure changes – new wiring and power-loads – to acoustical concerns such as the noisy airflow systems. Armed with this comprehensive list, Reed began working with the national experts who became team members on the project, including Morris Architects, Audio Analysts, Russ Berger Design Group, Irvine Team, and many others.
Lakewood Church, pastored by Joel Osteen, is recognized by Dr. John Vaughan of Church Growth Today as the largest and the fastest-growing church in America. With more than 25,000 members in Houston, and ten times that many viewers around the world, Lakewood’s worship services serve two groups of people: the live Houston congregation and the virtual congregation reached through television broadcasts in English and Spanish.
The Church Design Studio of Morris Architects worked closely with Lakewood’s staff, Audio Analysts, and the other consultants to implement the structural and architectural accommodations for the ministry’s needs. Live congregational “sight lines” had to be established, so that every person could see the platform and Pastor Osteen. Camera angles had to be taken into consideration when setting the stage.
Another challenge was designing a multimedia system that would flawlessly serve the needs of both live worship and broadcast. Lakewood’s skilled AV staff of a dozen full-time employees and another dozen well-trained contract staff (when taping for broadcast) has the expertise to design, build, and use the latest technologies. Audio Analysts and Russ Berger Design Group, as well as other consultants, were able to harness the most sophisticated solutions for implementation at the new Lakewood Church facility.
Given the venue’s size, seating arrangements and latitude of presentation programming, a high-powered line array was the perfect choice. A JBL Vertec solution was selected, with a combination of:
o Vertec 4889 line array modules
o Vertec 4887 compact line array modules
o Vertec 4880 line array subwoofers
o Custom Audio Analysts subwoofers (for the front fill low frequencies)
o EAW UB52 loudspeakers (for front fill).
All amplification is by Crown. The majority of the power amplifiers are the I-Tech series, which include delay, equalizers, and crossover for each channel, with AES/EBU inputs as well as analog inputs. All amplifiers are monitored via Crown IQ.
The live worship service is formatted for three television broadcasts: a 30-minute version of Pastor Osteen preaching, a one-hour version incorporating the worship music and congregational participation, and a Spanish-language, 30-minute program. Because of this, the audio-video installation must capture multiple levels, instantly digitize the analog input, then render the words, music, and images for the consoles to convert into the finished television programs. In the final installation, all analog signals from the stage are converted to a digital signal. These signals are transmitted via optic fiber to an array of consoles for sound reinforcement and broadcast, and recorded to multi-track computer-based systems.
Video camera placement and capabilities are key considerations; eight to nine cameras will cover the worship services at Lakewood Church. With a Grammy Award-winning producer and award-winning art directors and editors on staff, Lakewood Church relies on national-caliber talent to translate its dynamic live worship services into compelling television broadcasts.
When wiring a sanctuary for multimedia and broadcast, considerations range from roof loads to electricity to safety requirements and accessibility. This renovation for Lakewood Church was no different; the new systems required upgrades to the stadium’s electrical systems and low-voltage wiring infrastructure to support the large venue sound systems.
The glass-walled booths at the top of the arena were converted to electrical, mechanical, dimming, and public address systems. Two Euphonix (a System 5 and a Maxair) audio consoles will be located within the sanctuary, while three more consoles (two additional System 5s and a Sony R-100) will be next door in a new five-story addition. Some of the consoles duplicate one another for efficiency and redundancy.
For live worship, the old stadium had to be retrofitted with acoustical damping materials; the echoing arena was terrific for live basketball games, but inappropriate for the intimacy of the spoken word. Moreover, the existing public address system was unsuited for the facility’s new purpose, and so was completely transformed with unmatched clarity and eight times the power. Because the new sanctuary can accommodate concert-level decibels for live music, sound isolating barrier materials were installed to allow peace and quiet in the nurseries, located below the sanctuary where the stadium’s locker rooms used to be.
In addition to the re-use and adaptation of stadium spaces, the architectural team designed a new five-story addition adjacent to the arena. The addition’s first four floors are educational and dual-purpose spaces. The fifth floor is dedicated to the audio, video, broadcast, and recording needs of the church’s ministries. Recording studios and post-production facilities round out the fifth-floor installation.
One of the most important factors for the success of the Lakewood project has been teamwork and good planning. Morris Architects, Audio Analysts, and many other contractors maintained constant contact with one another, often working around the clock to ensure the project’s success. Questions the team asked itself included:
o What is being presented?
o How many inputs and outputs?
o How much area needs to be covered?
o Is there enough electrical power?
o Do we have enough room for the load in and load out?
o Do we need additional staff?
As the new facility nears completion, Easter services will be held at Houston’s major league baseball stadium, Minute Maid Park. Many of the same considerations for using AV equipment in the permanent installation apply to the temporary set-up for Easter. Computer-based consoles will capture and mix the sound levels. Cameras will feed live images both to the I-Mag (Image Magnification) screens and to the consoles for archival and broadcast purposes. And when the first services are held in the new this summer, triumph will resonate among everyone who worked hard to make the vision of the new Lakewood Church a reality.