Production Infrastructure for outdoor public places

Nextstage recently worked on a project to upgrade the production infrastructure on the historic New Haven Green in Connecticut, just blocks from our office. Balancing the needs for up-to- date power, network, water, and sewer while respecting and maintaining the historic look of this public space was a challenge.

Events on the green require varying degrees of infrastructure. Some events can be a few hours long and completely stand-alone with no power tie-ins or staging. On the other extreme are festivals that run for two weeks or more, with a full outdoor stage, portable rest-rooms, and full production lighting, audio and video. We were asked to suggest improvements that would enable simple events to be accommodated quickly and easily, and complex events to be held with adequate support and low impact on the greens trees and lawn.

One example that we studied was the Quartier des Spectacles, Montreal (QDS). Billed as a square kilometer of culture, the QDS is an urban zone fitted out with robust production infrastructure that supports over 30 indoor performance spaces, 8 outdoor public spaces, 9 building facades with architectural video projections hosting over 100 events a month. QDS had the advantage of being built recently as part of an extensive urban renewal project, so they could install lots of infrastructure underground while the ground was open during demolition and re-building. Their fiber network is amazing, controlling video, audio, communications, and show control throughout the quarter. Check them out at http://www.quartierdesspectacles.com/en/

On the historic New Haven green (a grass covered public area) installation of underground utilities needed to be done gradually and in concert with the constant schedule of events during our short New England summer. A phased process has begun to upgrade existing power cabinets, install some cable tunnels to reduce the amount if cable run over the ground, and water supplies and sewer connections were located where they were most urgently needed.

Future work may include permanent structural tie-downs for anchoring temporary stages, a fiber network to support events, and video cameras to allow monitoring events and daily use for security and safety. With the advent of more energy efficient lighting systems the amount of electric power can be reduced from the ubiquitous 400 amp feeds we are used to specifying. A wider distribution of smaller (200 amp) feeds will serve the needs of the various events located all around the green. Temporary turf protection has been purchased to help maintain the grass.

Making outdoor public spaces suitable for performances requires a sensible balance of practical accommodations (protecting the turf from large crowds and staging), and robust network backbone and distribution, power, water, and sewer. Municipalities will benefit from careful study and design. If the opportunity exists to install infrastructure during other major construction work, it can make all the difference.