Headquartered in South Africa, and with studios in the US and UK, the Faith Broadcasting Network is the largest religious broadcaster on the African continent, with its MyFaithTV channel having built a following of around 264m viewers since its inception two decades ago, through satellite, terrestrial and digital broadcasting.

The Faith Dome in East London, South AfricaTo accommodate this growth, the Faith Dome – the ministry’s base in East London, South Africa – formerly a wool warehouse, a cavernous space of 120m by 60m, with an 18m-high ceiling – has been undergoing renovations for many years. Other parts of the premises have been refurbished to house different aspects of the ministry’s work, including a number of television studios, humanitarian aid warehouses, activity spaces as well as the main broadcast studio.

In 2015, work commenced to replace the ceiling with an iconic dome. Stage Audio Works (SAW) was called upon to provide a sophisticated audio, lighting and rigging solution for the main arena based on d&b audiotechnik A-Series loudspeakers, Cameo and Hog4 lighting, with Stage Plus trussing.

In early 2021, saw work on the main studio concluded, and the Faith Dome officially completed. At maximum capacity, the indoor arena holds a staggering 10,500 attendees, making it the largest in the Eastern Cape.

SAW’s brief was to provide the Faith Dome with audio and lighting solutions to support its broadcasta and live events. SAW has been involved since 2013, although it was only in the last 18 months that the plan accelerated towards the client’s 360° vision, which places the stage and the PA system in the centre of the large arena.

‘It was important for us to have a central stage in the Faith Dome as it truly places the focus of worship in the midst of our congregation,’ says River Group founder and CEO, Dr Andre Robert. ‘It’s more democratic than a traditional front-to-back organisation, and allows everyone to remain connected and involved with the worship experience.’

Although this makes sense in terms of presenting a visual spectacle for live production, it posed a challenge to the A/V integration for a number of reasons. ‘From an acoustic perspective, the sheer size of the space is a factor to be reckoned with – in particular the extreme height of the room which necessitates a PA system that provides comprehensive vertical coverage,’ says SAW CTO, Nathan Ihlenfeldt. ‘We ruled out a traditional line array, as the number of boxes required would have interfered with the client’s broadcasting set-up and stretched the budget. For this installation, d&b’s A-Series augmented array technology was the perfect fit in terms of directivity control, sonic quality and price range. Notably, this project marks the first A-Series installation in Africa.’

d&b’s array technology with its wide dispersion and variable splay angles is a flexible solution that combines the versatility of point source with the controllability of a line array. Fewer cabinets are required to cover the same area, making it perfect for this application where sight lines were an issue. SAW opted for eight augmented arrays of three AL60 boxes flown from a custom-built square truss, itself flown from the ceiling at a height of 13m. To handle low end, four hangs of four V-Subs are flown from a second square truss inside the first. An in order to reduce cable runs, the amplifiers for the subs and the main PA are housed in custom racks located on top of their respective trusses. ‘It’s an unusual solution, but given the constraints we were working with, keeping everything together solved a number of issues,’ Ihlenfeldt admits.

d&b audiotechnik A-Series loudspeakers installed at the Faith Dome (Pic: Brad Taberer)‘One of the most crucial elements of our brief was to ensure that the PA would not impact on camera sightlines,’ he explains. ‘Consequently, the system is 13m above the floor. In fact, the bottom of the PA is above the top of the screens.’

Four large screens are housed in a custom-built cuboid truss structure flown over the centre of the stage. The sub array is flown directly above that. ‘The height was a defining factor in our choice of A-Series as our priority was vertical coverage over long throw. Just three cabinets per array gave us the coverage we needed for the first two rows,’ Ihlenfeld continues t. ‘The rest of the arena is covered by 16 10S point source loudspeakers flown at strategic locations throughout the space, along with several more for front fill on the central stage.’

A further consideration was routing flexibility. ‘The design enables parts of the system to be muted or switched off completely to keep the sound focussed where it’s needed and not playing out to empty parts of the building which would cause unnecessary reflections,’ says Ihlenfeldt. ‘It also means we can manage signal output in relation to the band so they aren’t hearing themselves through the arrays directly facing them.’

Additionally, SAW was responsible for the integration of the lighting system designed by Cape Town-based creative production company, Bad Weather. Truss design was also an important part of this project, with SAW designing and manufacturing a structure comprising two concentric squares and an outer rectangle to house the PA and lighting, plus the central cuboid structure for the screens, based on the Stage Plus OV truss.

‘Even though this was a tricky project to execute, we are proud of the outcome,’ Ihlenfeldt concludes. ‘It stands as a testament to our team’s ability to improvise and adapt within the constraints of a specific brief and budget. Our expertise and wide experience in the worship market means that we are well positioned to provide solutions to ministries of all sizes. We look forward to when restrictions ease and people are able to experience the magnitude of the Faith Dome first-hand.’

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