TV production spaces

The first article in this two-part series helps you plan TV production areas.
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The television production space, commonly referred to as the studio, is still the primary location for content capture in the television industry. The purpose of this two-part article series is to explain the relationship that the studio has to the other spaces that are necessary for a successful production and to establish technical design criteria for the TV studio you need.

This first article prepares you for the most important aspect of designing a studio — the formative thinking referred to as planning. In addition, it will also discuss architectural systems. Next month's article will cover electrical systems, and ventilation and fire suppression systems. Both articles will contain information to help you understand the relationships among all the systems involved — systems that make a space function as intended.

Why build production spaces?

For designers and architects, the primary question is, “Why build a studio for content capture at all, when, today, more and more content is captured outside the conventional studio environment?” Using this question as a starting point to determine the requirements for the studio space you are considering is critical to successful planning. You will be surprised by the variety of reasons people have, some as banal as wanting to have a space that looks like a television studio in order to retain funding. Others may want to create speculative, flexible space because they happen to own a large space with high ceilings, or there may be a need to accommodate a new production with specific requirements. Then there's the obvious — the need to plan a production studio that will streamline the production process and provide the most efficient workplace for the type of production you envision.

The process

The planning process for spaces should always begin with a mission statement, success criteria or a charter — some device that can be used to evaluate all of the steps in the process to ensure that they are consistent and moving toward the final goals.

The second document you need is an architectural program. This document outlines the quantitative (dimensions and areas of all the required spaces and a circulation factor of between 25 percent and 35 percent) and the qualitative aspects and requirements. It should address functionality in terms of the type of production foreseen. Asking questions is one method of getting criteria established. For example, how many sets will be located in the space? What are the hours of operation? How much flexibility is required to accommodate the show's format? How often will the set change?

TV production facilities vs. TV studios

The TV studio itself is part of a larger organism — the television production facility. While a TV studio is the primary source of content capture, its existence and functionality are totally dependent on its relationships to the adjacent support spaces.

The most critical aspect of planning those relationships is the control of circulation. Having evaluated many facilities over the years, Meridian Design has observed that the flow of people — talent, support and technical — has to be separate from the flow of things that feed the TV studio space — things like scenery, lifts and other equipment. We call this people vs. stuff. (See Figure 1.)

The people side

This important aspect of planning has to be modified to fit your production needs. For example, a soap opera's production flow is much more demanding in terms of scenery movement than that of a news operation, even though both are daily occurrences. The size of your existing or planned facility is also important and must be taken into account. The concept, however, stays the same; only the scale of the application differs.

Staying with the people spaces, let's consider organizational categories that will help define proximities. In the diagram for the spaces to be occupied, there are two categories: technical and support.

The technical spaces are defined as those required for the personnel and equipment needed to capture the production's images and audio. These spaces typically include video control, audio control, graphics, equipment racks rooms and other similar spaces, all of which are critical aspects of production, even if provided in a mobile unit.

The support spaces are required for the people working on the production so they can come together and do their part in an organized, coherent manner. Two primary groups of people are production staff, who have largely administrative tasks and work in offices, and talent-related personnel, who occupy a variety of rooms, such as wardrobe, green rooms, hair and makeup, rehearsal, and dressing rooms. A third group, the audience, is present in some cases as a requirement or a possibility in the future.

The final consideration on the people side is the need for spaces that support their needs — a place for them to eat conveniently and efficiently in large groups, as well as bathrooms in greater quantity than normally provided for office occupancy. This is because their use is peak-driven. Everybody has a short time to use the facilities, and they need them without delay.

Once you have grasped these requirements for the planned facility, you can begin to plan the desired sizes for the spaces. This is a critical aspect of planning, because every space has a range of sizes. Whether for technical or support, a minimum area is required to perform functions adequately. Variations outside this range are either wasteful, inefficient or, in the worst-case scenario, nonoperational.

The stuff side

The stuff side of the diagram represents all the materials that flow in and out of the studio space. The spaces are characterized primarily by their access to loading, scenery construction or storage, lighting shops (storage and maintenance), grips/cables storage and staging areas. Many times, these areas are provided with electrical vehicles for moving scenery carts and with lifts to access high areas of the studios, requiring parking, charging and maintenance areas. Additionally, the stuff side is operated by people who need support spaces of their own, such as locker rooms, bathrooms and break space.

The stuff spaces require a size analysis in order to determine how much space will be devoted to each function and each production requirement. A telenovela or soap opera is much more scenery-intensive than a sitcom, which is much more scenery-intensive than a talk show; therefore, the staging area must be designed accordingly.

Nonhabitable spaces

Considerations other than those of occupied spaces are the location and relationship of spaces related to the mechanical and electrical systems, which allow the TV studio space (and technical support areas) to function. Their location and size are major considerations in planning the space. The future flexibility of the spaces surrounding the studio, as well as short-term initial cost and functionality, is greatly influenced by a coherent design of the mechanical and electrical systems. It is for this reason that we always install those systems on the level above the studio floor.

Air-conditioning equipment is a key component of a television production facility. Many times in existing facilities, a lack of planning leads to less than optimal installations, resulting in noisy, nonintegrated and wasteful systems that are costly to operate. Our recommendation is always to have this equipment indoors, because rooftop fan-unit equipment is left exposed and is less likely to be maintained. A minimum of 50 percent of the TV studio area should be matched for air-conditioning (100 percent if redundancy is required) and 25 percent for power and lighting. Similar allowances should be made for mechanical and electrical spaces serving technical areas, such as those described above. These facilities need to be far enough away that they are not a source of noise but close enough that they don't require a costly investment in copper and ductwork in order to make your facility function adequately.

Flexibility and permanence

There are many reasons to design facilities that are flexible, such as changing of technology, production techniques and even format. To this end, it is important to realize that a TV studio is permanent, and its flexibility depends on how it is designed and located within the overall facility, whether it is new or existing.

At the core of its design is its size. We recommend that you build the largest possible studio for the production you envision. That being said, here are some average sizes for a one- or two-position studio:

  • 3000sq ft to 4000sq ft for news;
  • 4000sq ft to 6000sq ft or more for a production shooting at opposite ends of the studio;
  • 8000sq ft to 12,500sq ft and larger for a soap opera.

Studio heights will increase proportionally with the size of the studio. A small studio should have a minimum clear height (excluding everything but lighting) of 15ft, a medium studio 25ft and a large studio 35ft. A minimum width of 45ft is recommended for smaller studios and 100ft for larger studios, as this allows shooting to both sides along the long sides of the studio.

Architectural systems

All of the components and systems integrated to create a TV studio are there for a reason and are practical by nature. The architect is generally responsible for acoustics, finishes, egress and general code compliance.

When taken individually, these components and systems, which make up the entirety of a TV studio, are all, in one way or another, multi-disciplinary. There is a danger in formulating a design without having an understanding of how these systems are interrelated. It's critical to have an architect who is equipped with visualization tools, 3-D capabilities and acoustical understanding, along with the structural, ventilation, electrical and fire-suppression experience that is necessary to weave together the required elements.

The conductor of the orchestra

The preparation and planning of the project details must be executed in the right order and in the correct proportion to achieve a successful project implementation phase. One guiding concept is that of the orchestra conductor, wherein the architect responsible for the overall project carefully weaves together the different disciplines represented by the other consultants and does so in the right balance in order to achieve a coherent, evenly planned project.

However, the architect is no mere coordinator. He is responsible for the critical systems in all projects and acoustics. In similar manner, the finishes, most importantly those of the TV studio floor, are key for any designer and builder of a TV studio. Additionally, every component that is integrated into a studio has an architectural element that is characterized by size, weight and physical properties. These are a key concern for planning, dimensioning and coordinating the construction. Finally, the architect is the critical player in planning the structural requirements and their integration with the systems they support. This includes adequate structure for the long spans, supports for rigging, catwalks and penetrations into the studio space.


In all TV studio projects, acoustics is a key issue. Two primary areas are critical to the project's success: room response and sound transmission. The first focuses on how the room will respond to sounds. In most TV studios, this is not a particularly complicated matter. However, if the content creation space contains glass (such as in a street-front studio), reflections need to be controlled. The second area focuses on the design of an envelope that will block sound from entering and leaving the space. If you did your homework correctly, you will have already established design criteria for acoustics in the programming phase.

Room response

Room response is affected primarily by the ability of surfaces to absorb or diffuse sound and by the proportions and geometry of the room. Generally speaking, TV studios are designed to be acoustically dead, with little reverberation time. This is usually achieved simply by providing absorbent materials in all possible surfaces, with the exception of the floor. The material typically used is rigid fiberglass boards that have been covered with a surface treatment to prevent fraying. However, with recent emphasis on the use of green products, recycled cotton fibers properly treated for fire retardation are becoming more desirable, albeit costlier.

In small- and medium-sized studios, there are two reasons that set elements can be problematic if the production designer fails to consult with acoustical experts on the project. First, the set in a small studio occupies proportionally more space, thus being more acoustically significant. Second, shiny, hard, reflective surfaces look great on camera but perform poorly acoustically.

The proportions of the TV studio are of some concern, and the smaller the studio, the greater the concern. Most studios are used primarily for voice purposes. However, if the studio is frequently used for music, particular attention should be paid to proportions, as they are responsible for resonant room modes. If music is part of the daily routine, such as in variety shows, or if there is an audience, room acoustics, in general, become more important. While a detailed discussion is beyond the scope of this article, note that the preferred proportions, when viewed in plan or in cross-section, are nonmultiples of each other. A cube shape, for example, is the worst. Dimensions containing integer multiples, such as 20 units wide by 40 units long by 10 units tall, are problematic. The acoustical consultant should be actively involved early in the determination of room size.

Sound transmission

Sound transmission is the ability of the construction (which defines the production space) to diminish the amount of sound energy transmitted through it, either as an external source or as an internal source. The objective is to design the systems that enclose the studio so that the space can function adequately without interruption by outside noise sources and so that the events in the studio don't disturb other studios or spaces nearby.

Acoustical considerations

We often refer to links in the chain as an analogy of the system we need to design. Doors, walls, floors and ceilings have to be designed to function at the same level. If one element is underspecified and forces the whole system to function below expectations at that level, the resultant underspending in one area leads to potential overspending in the other systems. An acoustical consultant should be engaged as part of the team to provide measurements, establish criteria and recommend systems that are in balance.

The final acoustical consideration is the noise generated by the air-conditioning/ventilating system, which is the biggest source of noise within your space, once the proper isolation is in place. The two sources of noise related to ventilation are equipment noise and air noise at point of discharge.

Studio floor

The studio floor is one of the most important components that make up a studio. Without the necessary degree of floor level, cameras will roll by themselves, causing uneven images. If the floor contains bumps and imperfections, the camera will move abruptly as it hits mounds and valleys. These two aspects of the TV floor are referred to as level and true-to-edge. Typically the level is a maximum 0.25in over a distance of 50ft. True-to-edge is the local flatness of any given area, which should typically not exceed 0.0625in, the maximum gap in any part between the floor and a metal straight-edge. A good way to inspect this is with a long, straight metal tube. Shine a light behind it to look for gaps and measure them with thin plastic, such as a credit card. If the card fits under the tube, the floor level is unacceptable.

Most floors are cast in concrete, a material that cannot achieve those tolerances. So how do we surmount this problem? To do that, turn to self-leveling concrete toppings or troweled, cementitious toppings. In selecting a solution, it is best to know how the floor will be finished by scenic elements (vinyl tile, wood, epoxy paint, back-painted plastic sheets, etc.). Some self-leveling toppings, however, can be used as a finished high-gloss floor (Stonlux). Others, such as Ardex, are self-leveling but may require grinding to meet the flatness criteria and are not finished floors. In the U.S. market, Dexotex is the better known manufacturer of hand-troweled finished floors.

Not all production environments are suited for a concrete finished floor, due to its inability to accept nails used to secure scenic elements that are often made of wood. In those instances, you could use floors made from medium density fiberboard (MDF). The installation of this material, an organic material that absorbs moisture, must be carefully coordinated with the moisture level in the concrete. It is typically installed in a staggered pattern over a series of level, water-sealed wood strips spaced 16in on center, with the void between the strips filled with cement. It is best to spline the edges of one board to the other to ensure the floor level from one to the other, and then finish the flooring system with a light sanding.

Finally, the structure of the floor has to be taken into consideration. It should always be decoupled from the adjacent floor slabs. If the studio is at ground level (and there are no recurring impact noises that shake the ground), it will suffice to provide a joint between the studio slab and others adjacent to it. In other cases, such as in studios with occupied spaces below and in situations where it isn't structurally feasible to separate adjacent slabs, a floated floor is the only solution to ensure isolation from airborne and structure-borne noise, such as vibrations and impact noise like hammering.

The two primary types of floated floors and methods of building them are spring-isolated and resilient-mounted. The spring-isolated floor consists of a steel-reinforced concrete slab cast on top of the structural slab, with isolators spaced along its extents at even intervals, typically 4ft. After a minimum of seven days of curing, the slab is jacked up by turning spring-tightening screws from above the slab. This solution is relatively expensive and, for optimum performance, should be specified only through close coordination with the structural engineer and the acoustician.

The resilient-mounted system is less expensive, does not require jacking up and requires less curing time but is more limited acoustically, providing largely structural decoupling. Typically, it is a system of neoprene or resin-covered fiberglass cubes covered with plywood and has a concrete slab poured over it, with only minimal mesh-type reinforcement. Both systems should be specified by the acoustical consultant based on the specific project requirements.

Wall construction

The wall system in a studio provides lateral acoustical protection from adjacent spaces. (See Figure 2.) Additionally, the walls provide places on which to secure scenic elements that are usually tied above or on the studio floor and braced laterally to the wall. They are also treated with absorbent material to deaden the sound in the room.

Typically, studio walls are built of two walls that are, ideally, completely independent. This decoupling of walls is a primary requirement for acoustical isolation and is simple in concept. However, it is more difficult in practice, especially if it is a high wall. This double wall is designed so that the outer wall of the studio extends from the floor to the underside of the structure and is tightly sealed where penetrated by ducts, conduits and other structural members. The inner wall is built on the isolated or decoupled floor slab to ensure it will not vibrate along with the unisolated structure. This separation further ensures that impact on the outer wall will not be transmitted structurally.

It is not unusual to build the outer wall with concrete masonry units for larger TV studios, as the outer wall may be the outside wall of the building itself. However, usually — especially in the smaller to medium-sized studios — the wall is made of steel studs, with multiple layers of gypsum board on each side, as required to meet the acoustic design criteria. The cavity between the gypsum boards is then filled with fiberglass or mineral wool for cavity absorption.

The interior wall, often referred to as the liner wall, is almost always made with multiple layers of gypsum board on the studio side and fastened to metal framing, with the cavity filled with fiberglass or mineral wool for absorption. The inner wall, unlike the outer wall, is unfastened at the top. It must remain independent of the structure to maintain isolation, and, as such, is unstable structurally. The inner wall maintains structural integrity by lateral isolators called sway braces. There is a large variety of products that are designed to restrain lateral movement of the inner wall. Generally, these products are attached to the outer wall by means of a neoprene cushion that prevents a hard connection between the two walls.

It is important to note that when designing tall walls, special consideration must be given to structural requirements, such as the ratio of wall thickness to height, location of isolators (when required) and their coordination with support points for rigging. As mentioned above, the walls are largely finished with soft, absorbent materials, which are then protected with an inexpensive material such as wire mesh. However, this wall treatment must be interrupted at frequent intervals with the installation of horizontal wood members that can be used where screws are needed.

Doors and other wall openings

The weakest link in the wall system is the need for openings to make the space usable. The number of doors and their sizes is determined by several factors. All doors are there for a purpose and fall into one of two categories: doors for people to use and large doors commonly known as elephant doors.

Depending on studio size and use, people doors are placed in convenient locations in quantities necessary to satisfy safe egress. Studios that have audiences require specific planning so that they have enough doors to handle the occupancy and take into consideration the distance from the audience to the doors. Others need only one or two entrances for people, depending on the size — one typically close to the support spaces, such as control rooms and dressing rooms, and the other close to the staging area to be used by stage hands and technicians who access the studio. Elephant doors are used to move scenic elements into and out of the studio from the staging area. The smallest recommended size is 10ft × 6ft, typically used in small production spaces that have infrequent changes of scenery or don't require movement of tall sets and motor vehicles. A more appropriate size for those studios is a minimum of 12ft × 8ft. For specialized productions, such as those for filmmaking, doors should be much larger than the minimum.

When doors are opened, outside noise immediately penetrates the studio space. While sometimes this is not acceptable, it is at least manageable. In such cases, the door should be a true acoustic door with a sound transmission coefficient (STC) of at least 51, which, while it will not protect from somebody knocking (impact), will give substantial protection against airborne sound. We recommend using two doors of lesser quality to create a vestibule, or sound lock, which offers the best protection.

Sound locks for elephant doors are impractical due to space constraints. In smaller doors, up to 12ft × 8ft, it is practical to provide one set of doors on the outside wall and another on the inside wall, thus creating a zero clearance sound lock. Doors larger than that become increasingly heavy and need systems to mechanically aid their operation. The more popular doors are motorized, sliding or vertical-lift doors with cores of 4in to 6in, partially filled with concrete or other mass-producing component, depending on the desired STC rating.

Other openings that should not be overlooked are those that bring in wires for power and broadcast. Typically, power is brought inside in conduits or electrical wire-ways. These materials must be interrupted so that the rigid conduit does not bridge the independent walls or make a hard connection between the two. To eliminate bridging the walls, it is necessary to use a flexible conduit through the penetration, including proper grounding to ensure continuous ground for the power system. The broadcast wiring is usually in a cable tray in order to provide quick and easy access to the substantial amount of wiring. The cable tray should be stopped at either side of the wall, allowing the wires to penetrate through a metal box or conduit that is filled with easily removable, compressible material that seals the opening.

Ceiling systems

The space between the ceiling structural slab and the bottom of the lighting grid is by far the most complex coordination challenge in a TV studio. Here, one must interweave the HVAC distribution, acoustical absorption and isolation, electrical distribution, production lighting support and control systems, and rigging points for scenic elements, as well as the structural elements of the long-span studio roof. (See Figure 3.) The art in the design of this area is all about coordination of the many design professionals and trades people responsible for the various systems. Informed by the client's production requirements, it is the architect's responsibility to perform this coordination during the design process, and it is the general contractor's responsibility during the construction phase.

Some of the issues related to the ceiling will be covered in next month's article. However, issues such as lighting support systems and air distribution, which are future topics, have architectural, structural and acoustical implications, so some of those issues are worth mentioning now.

TV studios need wide open spaces without columns. Structurally, that implies long beams to span the space. Many times in my career, clients have enthusiastically shown me an existing large warehouse space, free of columns, only to find that that roof would have to be heavily reinforced at a substantial cost. This is because structures are typically designed to fulfill specific needs. A warehouse roof is designed to keep the rain out, whereas a TV studio roof has to carry a much greater load, in addition to the rain. That load can vary, depending on the size of the studio, the lighting supports strategies and the acoustical isolation to be hung from it.

Small studios are usually much less affected, because the spans are smaller. As studios become larger, such as those used for telenovelas, soap operas, audience variety shows and sitcoms, the weight-to-span ratio increases exponentially, meaning more weight in longer spans. In planning the studio as new construction, there is a benefit to being able to incorporate the structural components efficiently. Add allowances above code requirements for designs, including the following distributed loads: 7lbs per sq ft for acoustical isolation; 35lbs per sq ft for ducts; electrical and piping, and 25lbs per sq ft for the lighting and grid.

If you choose to use a lighting support system based on catwalks, another 30lbs per sq ft should be added. That puts the requirement somewhere between 67lbs and 97lbs per sq ft. We also recommend structural provisions for concentrated loads, as often productions need to hang heavy elements. The amount depends on the size of the studio. We typically plan for suspending a weight of 3000lbs from the areas dedicated to concentrated loads.

In large studios, there is typically a structural steel subframe below the acoustical barrier ceiling from which all other elements are hung. It is impractical to create a studio in which the structure is buried behind layers of acoustical construction. The subframe usually is made of steel beams 10in deep, creating a grid of 10ft to 12ft hung directly from the primary structure.

Ceiling considerations

The ceiling is the surface that completes the acoustical enclosure of the studio. In most cases, whether you have another occupied floor above you or just a roof, an isolated ceiling is necessary to maintain the acoustical standards established in the design criteria. The amount of mass and the qualities of the acoustical ceiling are subject to the recommendations of the acoustical consultant and can vary from a hung acoustic tile ceiling to a multilayer gypsum board ceiling. The ceiling, however, is always installed up to the interior wall of the studio and is never attached, allowing independent movement.

Often a ceiling has a layer of plywood and one layer or more of gypsum board, if required. Then the ceiling is suspended with a spring neoprene isolator. The isolators are typically located in two directions at 48in on center. Over the years, plywood has proven to be a practical material for the attachment of small speakers and to make the installation of the gypsum board more secure. Above the ceiling, it is important to provide a minimum of 6in fiberglass batt insulation to absorb sounds in the cavity. Below the ceiling, it is recommended that a minimum of 2in of absorbent material be installed.

The architect must work with the ventilation engineers and others to carefully coordinate the location of the isolators and the ducts. We usually create one drawing to show those locations, plus two more drawings to document the other ceiling information, because showing it all in one drawing creates clutter, making it impossible to read.

The ceiling area of a TV studio is congested, offers many challenges and has to be specifically tailored to the desired size and planned production needs. Many of the systems in this area will be covered in next month's article, which will review electrical systems lighting, power and systems integration (low voltage).

Antonio Argibay, AIA, is a principal of Meridian Design.