A High-Tech Legacy for Generations to Come

Sept. 25, 2006
Citation of Excellence in Buildings’ Modernization Awards 2006: John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Cambridge, MA, submitted by Lee Kennedy Co. Inc.

Since 1978, the Forum has served as the world-renowned Kennedy School of Government’s primary public venue for lectures, panel discussions, and debates.

The Institute of Politics, which administers the Forum, aims to inspire undergraduate students to enter the dynamic worlds of politics and public service, and to foster positive interchange between the academic and political communities. When the establishment reopened in September 2003 after its occupied renovation, it was dedicated in honor of John F. Kennedy Jr.

The modernization of the Forum was, in fact, John F. Kennedy Jr.’s vision. He had long wanted to bring the Forum into the 21st century with state-of-the-art technology. Architectural Resources Cambridge (ARC), the original architect of the Littauer Center for Public Administration which houses the Forum, was called upon 25 years later to design the renovation and upgrades. However, the goal of the renovation was solely to improve the function of the space without changing its appearance; the Forum’s signature look was to be left as unchanged as possible. To this end, HB Communications, the AV consultant, faced a tough challenge: It needed to install complicated systems that would function within the parameters of a design that was already established.

Renovations to this vibrant hub of political discussion focused primarily on the updating of technological facilities in order to broaden the space’s media exposure. The Forum’s basic structure remained unchanged, although its appearance was refurbished through the installation and application of new carpet, paint, and finishes. Its security resources were also upgraded - all within a limited timeframe of less than 3 months and while the building remained fully operational. The project scope included major lighting upgrades, decorative glass replacement, and major HVAC and life-safety upgrades, as well as new seating and stage and viewing areas.

During the design phase of the project, the team conducted interviews with various faculty, journalists, photographers, sound engineers, cameramen, former speakers, KSG Media Services, local police, and State Department personnel for input on the issues that most needed to be resolved for the renovation to best serve the many users of the space. The Forum is an extremely multi-faceted venue - as a gathering place for students and staff to eat and mingle, break-out space for study groups, a venue for parties, and, of course, a stage that hosts world-renowned speakers, political pundits, and pop-culture icons.

The space is designed to be flexible and requires the AV system to support several scenarios. The Forum’s modular stage can be reconfigured in numerous ways, each creating different AV needs. Various seating levels, vantage points, and angles within the space required solutions that would work both visually and acoustically. A digitally steer-able loudspeaker system, touch-panel system controls, a dual-mode microphone system, three jumbo-sized plasma screens, and eight 19-inch monitors that can be lowered from the ceiling are just a sampling of features used to overcome the challenges presented by the dynamic space.

Connecting to the outside world is as important as connecting to a live audience. Most of the Forum’s events are streamed live over the Internet and/or recorded by C-SPAN, National Public Radio, or local cable television. Great consideration went into selecting digital equipment to handle the diverse broadcast requirements. Also included in the scope of the renovation was a private broadcast room where presenters could be interviewed one-on-one before or after events.

The space is considered a “forum” in the Greek sense of the word. John F. Kennedy Jr. embraced the Forum as a place where people could openly discuss issues. As noted by Sen. Ted Kennedy at the Forum’s rededication ceremony, John F. Kennedy Jr. “reveled in the give and take, and anything thought-provoking.” The renovation symbolizes the Kennedy School of Government’s continuing efforts to inspire and produce the next generation of leaders.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: “The space is fl exible and versatile. Many elements unique to this space design were considered and implemented, including a selection of materials for sound attenuation, lighting, video display, and security. The project met its goal of bringing the space in line with 21st-century technology.”

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