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Understanding technical systems through storytelling

Chatting with Jonathan Robert Bucci, Project Consultant at StoweNash Associates, about integrated systems for the Portobello Cultural Life and Arts Center is one-part storytelling mixed with one-part technical instruction.

“My family is from Beaver County, still live there and are tied to the community,” Jonathan shared warmly. “Because of that, this project is special to me. I remember hanging out at the Eat ’n Park (in Beaver Falls) before businesses started disappearing and the area was left in the dust. Playing a role in the city coming back to life is amazing!”

Jonathan, part of the StoweNash team assisting with our black box theater design and development, graduated with his BFA from Point Park University with an emphasis in stage management and theater design. Originally trained as a theater practitioner, an end user of theatrical spaces, he now trains others needing direction in how to both understand the technical concepts of artistic consoles and implement those systems.

For anyone doubting their ability to understand technical aspects of a project, (wildly waving my hand here) Jonathan, admittedly passionate about IT, serves as translator to ensure otherwise! And he uses a very unique method to do so.

Teaching via storytelling

Jonathan bridges the gap between technical jargon and the clear application of that information by utilizing analogy to create a visual of the process. Having witnessed this firsthand, his approach breeds confidence in someone who though usually more comfortable standing on-stage under theatrical lighting, can indeed master how to run the lighting console from backstage.

Jonathan’s skill at taking the confusing and making it accessible, was prevalent during a recent team meeting where a discussion about integrated building systems within the Portobello took center stage.

Unlike traditional building projects where engineers often focus on their specific systems (think structural, mechanical, civil, etc.) which tend to run independently once installed, the Portobello building systems will be integrated, working similarly to, as Jonathan aptly described, “an orchestra”.

Adopting this integrated team approach to systems management, especially for a commercial green building, has proven to be both fiscally responsible and an effective model for ensuring efficiency between competing systems. Energy conservation is the name of the show at the Portobello.

To gain a better understanding, let’s take a trip to the symphony.


Imagine the individual technical systems in the Portobello as musicians. For example,

  • HVAC = violinist

  • Lighting = flutes

  • Building IT = oboes and other reed instruments

Option 1: The musicians enter the stage individually and commence playing their designated parts as solo pieces one instrument at at a time, completely apart from the other musicians. Perhaps lovely, though underwhelming if one has come expecting to hear a full orchestra.

Option 2: The musicians choose to play their individual parts of the selection at the same time, on top of each other, each instrument in competition with the next, resulting in a chaotic musical experience.

Option 3: A better solution would be to invite all the musicians to gather onstage and play the selection of music as written, listening to each other, giving and pulling back, speeding up and slowing down, the end result being one cohesive piece to which they’ve all contributed.

Per Jonathan’s analogy, the Portobello's various systems serve as the instruments in our little construction symphony, with the equipment used for directing those systems on who, what, when, where and how to play, being the conductor - guiding the individual instruments along to create one holistic piece.

And with that, you too can be an expert in integrated systems management.

"Earl Grey. Hot."

To this technical novice, the thought of the stage lights dimming at the end of Act One, thus signaling the regular lights in the theater and lobby to increase, while also triggering the HVAC to turn on, cooling off the theater during intermission before resuming the performance, seems a bit Star Trekky. But when these systems are designed to work together, rather than separately, the result is energy maintenance, one of our goals at the Portobello.

The collaboration and tools to make this orchestra happen are in the hands of our fantastic team (Iams Mechanicals, StoweNash theatrical consultants and the Auros Group) who are tasked with designing a system that will serve as the conductor for our building's energy performance and even help us audit the indoor environmental quality of the Portobello.

The environment in the Portobello will be a beautiful symphony of invisible details drawing the community back to visit time and time again.

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