How Can Old Buildings Use New Technology?

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But can you give an old building new technology?

Beautiful hardwood floors…carefully-preserved plaster walls…all covered in ugly cables stretching across the room to power the screen wheeled in from the closet across the hall. This is what many people picture when they think of new technology in historic spaces, but this doesn’t have to be the case. The integration can be seamless. All you have to do is have a plan.

What old buildings need new technology?

The need to incorporate new technology in old buildings is especially common in courthouses. These government buildings are sometimes hundreds of years old, built long before computers or video were even dreamed about. However, as the justice system continues to embrace this technology, courthouses must find ways to adapt.

Exterior view of a courthouse facade.It’s important to incorporate technology systems into the space without impacting the aesthetics. This is often difficult because most of these spaces are constructed of hard surfaces, such as plaster. Adding infrastructure within walls and ceilings is almost impossible in some cases, so the types of equipment and where it’s located are critical to maintaining the historical nature of the space.

“One way to integrate sound reinforcement without distracting from the history is to use thin, steerable column array loudspeakers that can be painted to match the walls,” explains Jessica Hiatt, CTS-D, an audiovisual designer, project manager, and acoustical lead at IP Design Group. “Video often needs to be done with portable equipment or small format displays at tables and benches that can be connected through floor boxes.” Many times the floors have to be trenched or cored to incorporate the floor boxes or enlarge existing boxes. Flat cabling can also be used under the carpets, depending on the space.

Inside a U.S. courtroomFor wall-mounted devices, location is everything when trying to hide infrastructure. Whenever possible, molding or other decorative features are used to hide cable pathways, allowing devices to be implemented without negatively impacting the historical aesthetics. But every space is different.

In some cases, there are no opportunities to add pathways or cabling. In these situations, technology designers need to consider creative solutions such as finding ways to use wireless presentation and streaming technology instead.


One of the biggest challenges is finding space for equipment racks. Many historical courtrooms have plaster walls and hard lid ceilings that aren’t ideal for concealing or pulling cable and weren’t designed with equipment rooms to support the racks required. And in most cases, the historic nature doesn’t allow for surface-mount raceways either as those detract from the aesthetics of the space.

When finding a place for equipment racks becomes challenging, here are three creative solutions Hiatt and her technology design team explore:

  1. Look for a storage closet or other room close by. This avoids adding noise to the courtroom, while allowing pathways and power to be routed from the equipment rack to the courtroom. Installing the equipment rack here also means making sure this storage closet (or other room) has the cooling to support the additional equipment.
  2. Take advantage of existing telecommunications rooms where possible. This works great if there is enough room for the audiovisual equipment because there is typically a pathway already in place to those locations. Plus, they’re already adequately cooled.
  3. Consider under-desk equipment racks as a last resort. Smaller pieces of equipment can be located at the benches in smaller under-desk racks that can be pulled out for access to wiring behind the unit during maintenance.

Why is it important for old courthouses to incorporate new technology?

Courts now take advantage of video and photographic evidence, recorded interviews, and virtual testimony from witnesses and experts outside the courtroom. Recording and reviewing courtroom proceedings can also provide valuable learning opportunities. Depending on security requirements, some courthouses have begun incorporating streaming capabilities – externally and internally. Streaming internally enables courtrooms to include overflow and remote viewing rooms, which became essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bench inside a U.S. courtroom.

Microphones not only allow audio to be captured for the record, but ensure that everyone present can hear information passed down from the judge, witnesses, and attorneys. On the other hand, side bar white noise provides privacy for bench conferences. Technology also makes justice more inclusive. Interpretation connections at counsel tables allow an in-house interpreter to connect to the audiovisual systems.

There is also a safety component. “While preserving the historical aesthetic of older spaces is very important, the cables and other equipment that come with these technology systems can become tripping hazards,” Hiatt points out. “Technology consultants design effective systems that meet the courthouse’s needs, including properly securing all cables.”

Can other old buildings benefit from new technology?

Exterior view of the Burlington Rail and Commerce Building in Omaha, NebraskaMany government buildings, such as the Nebraska State Capitol, are historical buildings that must also adapt to modern times and new technology. National parks often include historical structures that become museums and need audiovisual displays to educate visitors. In some cases, 100-year-old buildings like the Burlington Rail Mail Center find new life as an office space through an adaptive reuse project. In order for businesses like Warren Distribution to function in historical spaces today, they need upgraded technology from reliable internet connectivity to video-conferencing equipment.

Where can I learn more?

Hard surfaces like the plaster ceilings found in many historical buildings can lead to loud spaces. To find out how an acoustical consultant can make these areas more comfortable read “What is an Acoustical Consultant?

Read “What is Historic Preservation?” to learn more about the special considerations that go into building systems for historical spaces.

Do you have an old building that could use a technology boost to meet its full potential? Contact us today to see how it can come to life with the technology you need without the ugly cables.

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