The stage is set. Everyone is in his seat. Then it happens. The lights, the sounds, the space — they all lend to this magical experience being created before the audience’s eyes.
“When the lights go down and the curtains go up, the rubber hits the road. That’s when the excitement happens,” said Craig Janssen, who brought his holistic approach of audio-visual to the Dallas market.
For so long, the facets of performance have been identified and approached as individual entities: audio, video, lighting, broadcast and acoustics.
But what if they were viewed as one whole design? Acoustic Dimensions was founded in 1992 with the idea that pieces in performance systems work together instead of separately.
“It never made sense to study them as discreet components,” said Janssen, co-founder and managing director. “We wanted to influence the entire experience.”
A Zambian native, Janssen began playing in bands in his early teens and said that through music he was introduced to the audio-video industry.
“I was a musician,” Janssen said. “Like many, I came into the industry playing in bands.” But he said it was his training in mechanical engineering that helped the pieces fall into place.
“I used my engineering to marry my love of music,” he said. “It was roles of engineering that drove how sound behaved.” Janssen said he began learning how spaces impact the way music is experienced and how to create an experience that people enjoy.
Janssen made his way to the states through a job in Kansas City and ventured to Texas shortly thereafter to work as a consulting engineer.
He, along with colleagues David Kahn and Vance Breshears, decided to join forces in 1991 and founded Acoustic Dimensions a year later.
“We didn’t start with a strategy,” Janssen said. “We started with a passion.”
Kahn set up base in New York City, but Janssen said he didn’t like the cold, so he was quite content to stay in Addison. Acoustic Dimensions has offices in San Diego, New York City and Coventry, England. The company’s portfolio includes performing arts, sports, entertainment, education, corporate, hospitality and worship venues.
Acoustic Dimension is also committed to advancing in the area of sustainability, not only within the company, but also through its clients. “The audio-visual world has kind of lagged behind on this,” adds Cathy Hutchison, director of marketing at Acoustic Dimensions.
Hutchison said they were meeting architects who were very passionate about sustainability and through their own investigations at work, the intrigue grew. “The knowledge really sparked a passion,” she said.
Examples of the sustainability in businesses it has provided have included installing video conferencing systems to reduce travel and, in effect, reduce their carbon footprint.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “buildings use more energy than any other sector of the U.S. economy, consuming more than 70 percent of electricity and over 50 percent of natural gas.”
This led to the staff to look into getting LEED certified.
According the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized green building certification system that provides a “framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.”
Acoustic Dimensions, in general, currently has 23 LEED Accredited Professionals on staff, with 17 working at the Addison location.
Jason Foster, one of the LEED AP staff members, said that when he was contacted by Acoustic Dimensions he was happy at his current job. “I wasn’t looking for a change; I wasn’t looking to leave,” he said. “I met with them and I clicked with them and what they were doing.”
Suddenly, Foster thought that maybe a change would be good. Before joining the Acoustic Dimensions team, he had been in the professional lighting field for about 15 years as a freelance lighting designer and a technical director for a local theatre. But Foster said it’s the personal connection with the client that sets Acoustic Dimensions apart from the rest.
“It’s about getting to know the client’s DNA,” he said. “They come at it from ‘Who are you and what do you want to accomplish?’ Then they design the systems to tailor that.”
He adds that the scope, span and capabilities of Acoustic Dimensions go far beyond just the acoustic property. “We create rooms to have experiences in,” he said.
The staff is also what sets Acoustic Dimensions apart, and Foster believes it is a tribute to Janssen who very deliberately hires staff.
The community also makes a difference. Foster said Addison is an encouraging place to be for this field. “Addison is very supportive of the arts. [It’s] a pretty cool place to be right now.”
The company works on about 100 projects a year, with the building projects generally taking anywhere from three to seven years to complete, Hutchison said. Acoustic Dimensions has worked on about 1,000 projects over the past two decades and it is not uncommon to have repeat customers.
“About 85 percent of work comes from existing relationships,” Hutchison said, noting that many are through architectural relationships.
Watermark Community Church is one of those customers. Acoustic Dimensions had previously helped the church with a 2,200-seat auditorium it has since outgrown. So when it came to picking a company to help with the new 3,500-seat project, there was never a question of who to call.
“[We] never considered anyone else at that point,” said Gary Stroope, senior director of arts at Watermark. Stroope, who met Janssen 11 years ago, said he would work with Acoustic Dimensions again because of the caliber of the staff.
“I would use Acoustic Dimensions because when it comes down to choosing companies it’s all about the leaders, about the people,” he said. “Your project will not be off the radar.” No matter how big or how small a project might be, Stroope knew it would have Janssen’s attention.
At First Baptist Church-Dallas, the company is three years into a $130 million project that includes a 3,000-seat auditorium, an education center, parking garage, sky bridge, outdoor fountain for baptisms and an acre of green space.
“My previous experience with [Acoustic Dimensions] was enough to tip the scales,” said Deborah Sweeney. “In the church world, they are the premier designers.”
Sweeney, who owns Anchorpointe, a church construction consulting and owner representation group, has worked with Acoustic Dimension on nine different phases of construction over the years at various churches. As a construction consultant, Sweeney said her job is to make sure that the interests of her clients are being taken care of, which is something she doesn’t have to worry about with Acoustic Dimensions.
“They really pay attention to what the client wants,” Sweeney said.
Another aspect that keeps her coming back is Acoustic Dimensions’ constant awareness of designing around the client’s needs and the attention spent with each project. “They are very budget-minded and very client-friendly,” she said.
The final product is set to be unveiled in 2013.
“[Acoustic Dimensions is] one of the few firms that focus on the church market as well as the secular market,” said David Leuschner, executive director of technical arts at Gateway Church-Southlake.
Acoustic Dimensions worked on the church’s 4,000-seat auditorium, about an $8-million project, and helped with the broadcasting component of Gateway’s satellite campuses in Frisco and North Richland Hills.
“Overall, the company just knows what they’re doing,” Leuschner said. “I’d recommend them over and over.” He credits the success of Acoustic Dimensions with the staff and leadership standing behind the company. “Craig Janssen is a great man, reputable and honest.”
In order to make sure the client is given the best design for their needs and wants, the company took it one step further. Hutchison said the company is future-focused and that Janssen and his group have such a pulse on the way culture is changing.
It’s not all about the status quo, Hutchison said. They are all about the improvements.
Strategic Dimensions was founded as a sister company to Acoustic Dimensions, and takes the design process to a high-tech level. Hutchison said the idea came from the experiences of Acoustic Dimensions and noticing that about 30 percent of projects would fall apart in the schematic design phase.
“It wasn’t born out of a desire to design software,” Janssen said, but as a way to help the clients.
Designers could express that a plan would not work logistically, but there is no way to show the client what he or she cannot see, Hutchison said. Janssen adds that clients sometimes may have a grand design in mind, but Strategic Dimensions helps them map a model of realistic potential.
Strategic Dimensions is a software-based process to show clients all variables: people, space, time and money. When one changes, Hutchison said, the others will change along with it, but the client cannot always see that.
“The client can play a ‘what if’ game,” said Hutchison referring to the software that allows the user to change the variables to see how the others are affected.
If the client wants to see what would happen if he or she made the design bigger, the software will show him or her changes in cost, capacity and even construction timelines, Hutchison said. The “process allows clients to brainstorm options and see the impact of their decisions in real time.”
And while the company is looking ahead, Janssen’s vision for the future is still the same service he’s offering today. “Our goal is absolutely in providing clients with advice on how to fulfill their vision.”
-By Amanda Shimko