Cover Feature: New Cairo’s new cathedral
Cover Feature: New Cairo’s new cathedral
Cathedral of the Nativity has opened its doors, becoming the largest church in the Middle East. James Cooke explores
At the dawn of 2019, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi inaugurated the Cathedral of the Nativity in New Cairo. A brand new Coptic Orthodox Cathedral dedicated to the birth of Christ, Great St Antony is thought to be the largest church in the Middle East at 135,000m2, with space for a congregation of up to 8,500 people.
Audio Technology Egypt was tasked with designing and installing the systems for sound reinforcement at the new cathedral. From the initial planning stages, including software simulations of the audio setup required, it became clear that the imposing size of the building, and the sheer volume within, was going to result in a number of challenges to overcome. A daunting task lay ahead, especially given Cathedral of the Nativity’s high public profile. The cathedral may be one of the largest on the planet, but it would often find itself under a proverbial magnifying glass.
‘The brief from the beginning was clear,’ recalls Emad Adly, chairman of Audio Technology. ‘It would be the largest cathedral in the Middle East with an interior length of 142m, width of 90m, dome height of 45m, a high vaulted ceiling and the capacity for 8,500 worshippers. An audio system was therefore required because of how challenging the acoustics in the sanctuary are with hard reverberation. We had to make sure the largest church in the Middle East sounded good with the latest technology in the form of digital steerable line arrays.’
Audio Technology has plenty of experience in projects at houses of worship throughout Egypt, including several Saint Marc Episcopate affiliated churches. ‘Through the years, Audio Technology has supplied and installed sound reinforcement systems, mixing consoles and wireless microphone systems for numerous houses of worship,’ confirms Adly. ‘Audio Technology also provided system calibration and design services for the Episcopate’s Saint Mark Cathedral, which led to us being invited to bid for the new capital’s Cathedral of the Nativity tender, and we had the honour of winning this historical project.’
During the system design process, the Audio Technology team made use of AFMG’s EASE Focus acoustic simulation to determine the best sound setup possible.
‘The biggest challenge we faced was the acoustics,’ Adly reiterates. ‘The reverberation time was challenging because of the architecture and the building’s finishing materials. A lot of details in the design of the church had to be studied and simulated before installation. It took us two months of hard work and several EASE modelling revisions.’
Other issues to contend with included the various restrictions imposed by the cathedral, including aesthetic considerations. ‘Not all designs and primary plans for the installation were approved the first time,’ adds Adly.
Once the design was complete, the installation, commissioning and tuning took the Audio Technology team approximately one month. The main sound reinforcement system is formed from 14 of Fohhn Audio’s Linea Focus beam-steering speakers, to direct the audio towards the congregation and away from the cathedral’s reverberant surfaces.
A pair of DLI-430 speakers have been installed, one on each side of the sanctuary, as the main PA system. Another two DLI-430 cabinets cover the choir area, while eight DLI-230 systems can be found in four pairs throughout the length of the nave as delays. A further two DLI-230s provide coverage in the side aisles.
Fohhn’s Airea active loudspeaker management and intelligent audio networking system has been employed, with two AM-40 Airea Master modules installed at the cathedral. ‘The AM-40 Master unit distributes audio (AES/EBU) and control data,’ explains Samuel Hartmann from Fohhn Audio. ‘Therefore, each speaker is connected to an AM-40 by a single Cat cable.
‘Meanwhile, the adjustment of the Linea Focus DLI speakers was done with Fohhn Audio Soft, including the real-time adjustment of all beam parameters and EQ, and Fohhn’s Measuring Software FAMSA by Fohhn engineer Ralf Freudenberg onsite.’
‘We also worked with other pro audio companies on the project, such as Harman Professional and Shure,’ adds Adly. In addition to the loudspeaker setup, Audio Technology was responsible for the entire sound system. This included the deployment of a Soundcraft Vi1 48-channel mixing console, equipped with an RS2409SP Cat-5/MADI card, alongside a CSB 32/8+8 compact stagebox and a whole host of Shure microphones, including SM58SE dynamic vocal, SM86 cardioid condenser and MX418D/C gooseneck mics.
The extensive microphone setup also comprises a Shure SLX24/SM58 handheld wireless system, SLX14/85 lavalier wireless system, MX153 earset headworn mics, a UA844+SWB-E antenna distribution system, UA874WB active directional antennas and UA860SWB passive omnidirectional antennas.
Additional loudspeakers complement the Fohhn systems in the form of JBL’s CBT 50LA-1-WH and CBT 100LA-1-WH column line arrays, powered by Crown CDi 4|300 amplifiers, as well as SRX812P active bass-reflex cabinets and LSR305/230 monitors.
The scope of Audio Technology’s work wasn’t contained within Cathedral of the Nativity’s main sanctuary either, as the systems integrator also designed and installed sound solutions from Shure, JBL, Crown and Soundcraft inside a smaller chapel, auditorium and a multi-purpose hall.
Back inside the main sanctuary, the large, reflective room has an extremely long reverberation time of 11s. With the cathedral now open, it is the Fohhn Linea Focus beam steering that facilitates direct sound coverage with precision, resulting in clear speech intelligibility with a 0.6 average STI (Speech Transmission Index) measurement, for 95% intelligibility of sentences spoken.
‘The vast flexibility of Fohhn’s Linea Focus products helped a lot in overcoming the challenges we faced at Cathedral of the Nativity,’ concludes Adly.