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Swiss Parliament - Federal Palace - Outside - Night21st Century Technological Upgrade ‘Gleams In Vintage Splendour’

BERNE, SWITZERLAND: The Federal Palace in Berne provides a superlative setting for the Federal Assembly of Switzerland and the Swiss Federal Council. Designed by architect Hans Wilhelm Auer, the palatial sandstone edifice was constructed over a period of eight years, 1894 to 1902. While its’ classic façade appears unchanged since the day it was completed, a number of technological upgrades have been incorporated to subtly but effectively bring the building into the 21st Century.

In 2006, after over 100 years of continuous service, work began on the first major renovation of this historic structure directed by general planner Aebi & Vincent Architekten SIA AG on behalf of the awarding authority, Bundesamt für Bauten und Logistik. The mandate of the design and reconstruction team was to integrate modern technology within a faithful restoration of the original building. Their credo: “in altem Glanz erstrahlen? (gleaming in vintage splendour).

Swiss Parliament - National Council HallNATIONAL COUNCIL HALL

The National Council Hall is distinguished by a large wall painting by Charles Giron depicting the Ruetli Meadow on the Lake of Lucerne where – according to legend – the Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291. Standing beside this masterwork is a statue of storied Swiss hero William Tell.

The National Council Hall has three distinctive zones that required sound reinforcement: the main hall, the stage area (with a presenter position and seats for Chairpersons, vote counters, recorders and clerks), and the balcony (for visitors and press).

With an office in Basel, Switzerland, WSDG was engaged to perform three tasks: Develop a study and analysis of the installed electro acoustical systems; deliver a formal recommendation for the upgrade or replacement the existing systems. And, following the installation, perform final acoustical measurements and a complete calibration of the new systems.

WSDG project manager Thomas Wenger and project engineer Gabriel Hauser began the assignment with a detailed analysis of the existing systems. They determined that the head end of the system – high quality microphones and a highly integrated analogue mixing desk – remained functional and had a substantial life expectancy. The loudspeaker systems however, although originally well-designed, were deemed inadequate. Their positioning in the room coupled with their limited directivity control indicated that they should be replaced. Using advanced acoustical computer simulation techniques including full virtual 3D modelling and auralisation of the space in CATT Acoustics, a series of upgrade options was developed.

As primary criteria for the sound system, WSDG required that due to the room acoustics (RT60 times up to 2.5sec) the loudspeakers should offer very controlled directivity and high speech intelligibility for all 250 seats, and that the high-performance cabinets should also be compact and with extremely low visual impact.

After consultations with the historic building conservation authorities, installer Kilchenmann AG was able to fulfill WSDG’s design concept. 7x GEO S8 cabinets were used on each side of the large wall painting that dominates the Chamber; the loudspeaker modules were fitted into purpose-built box frames with crossbars at the back, a WSDG concept executed primarily for cosmetic purposes but which also reduced the impact of fixing on the historic mural.

The aesthetic integration displays a “reveal philosophy.? Though they do not attract attention to themselves, the loudspeakers and other technology elements are clearly visible, and appear entirely appropriate and at home in the setting.

Due to acoustical feedback issues and the orientation of the stage and the Chairpersons position, it was not possible to cover that area with the main loudspeaker system. To address this issue WSDG specified a separate Stoll Audio Custom Picoline mini line array loudspeaker system using 1? full-range driver units, also powered by LabGruppen amplifiers. This custom designed system was installed locally on top of the vintage table tops, and fully ameliorates the situation. Noted for their diminutive size and extraordinary sound quality, Stoll Audio Custom Picoline loudspeakers were also used for sound reinforcement in the balcony areas.

Explains WDSG’s Thomas Wenger, “this is a protected historic building and it was not possible to add massive acoustic treatments, so it was very important to have a directive system. Acoustical measurements of (amongst others) Speech Intelligibility (STI) have been undertaken and they nicely show the qualities of the upgraded system in comparison to the original one. The results are consistent with the simulations performed with CATT Acoustic. Everyone is quite pleased.?


In addition to the National Council Hall, the Parliament Building also offers extensive conference and meeting facilities for the Parliamentary Delegates, organized in a significant number of Committees and Work Groups.

In the course of the building’s renovation all media systems in these spaces were updated as well. A basic infrastructural component – and therefore implemented in all rooms – is the option to record any and all meetings for transcribing translating and archiving onto a removable digital storage device. For security and privacy reasons these systems are managed and operated by special personnel. Most meetings are equipped with projectors and projection screens, and the most complex rooms have an extensive audio conference system including microphones at all delegates’ positions and full simultaneous translating facilities for the three official Swiss languages German, French and Italian. All media systems are controlled by a uniformly designed touch panel so that anyone familiar with operating room A can familiarize himself immediately with room B or C.


Filename: 01 – Swiss Parliament – Federal Palace – Outside – Night – Portrait.jpg
Federal Palace Bern, Home of the Swiss Parliament
Credit: Swiss Parliament, www.parlament.ch

Filename: 06 – National Council.jpg
Credit: © Aebi &Vincent Architekten, Bern, Switzerland

Filename: 10 – Delegates Room – Small.jpg
Credit: © Aebi &Vincent Architekten, Bern, Switzerland


The Walters-Storyk Design Group www.wsdg.com has designed over 3000 media production facilities in the U.S., Europe, the Far East and Latin America. WSDG credits range from the original Jimi Hendrix Electric Lady Studio in Greenwich Village to NYC’s Jazz At Lincoln Center performance complex, broadcast facilities for The Food Network, Interlochen Public Radio, CBS and WNET, and corporate clients such as Hoffman La Roche. Recent credits include private studios for the Goo Goo Dolls, Jay-Z, film composer Carter Burwell, Aerosmith; Alicia Keys and Bruce Springsteen. WSDG principals John Storyk, Beth Walters, and Dirk Noy lecture frequently at universities and industry events, and contribute regularly to industry publications. WSDG is a six-time winner of the prestigious TEC Award for outstanding achievement in Acoustics/Facility Design. The firm maintains offices in NY, SF, Argentina, Brazil, Beijing, Mexico City and Switzerland.

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