Building a home

The Helsinki Music House is a public facility built to accommodate two of the city’s orchestras and its prestigious Sibelius Academy. Anna Mitchell gets to grips with the enormous facility.

Twenty years ago two Helsinki orchestras started to discuss the idea of creating a home for them both in the Finnish capital. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra both needed a proper concert hall and embarked on a project that would also include the city’s prestigious music university, the Sibelius Academy.

The Sibelius Academy wanted a third space near its other buildings and discussions commenced between what common activities the three stake holders had and how each group wanted to use the space. 

Concept to construction took 18 years of planning and raising funds for the €188 million project. Construction took two years. The final budget of €188 million included €164 million for the building and €24 million for accessories, including furniture and entertainment technology.

"We kept our budgets quite well," says project manager Pekka Ritaluoto. "First plans were just about 20% lower including inflation."

The floor space covers 36,000m² over seven floors and encompasses six performance spaces including a 1,704 seat concert hall. There are seven recording studios, three light edit studios, two picture control rooms, four entry points for broadcaster’s OB vans as well as classrooms and offices for the Sibelius Academy.

With such a vast project it is not surprising that the entertainment technology was provided under 29 separate contracts that, after a public tender process, went to 12 different companies.

Audio in the main concert hall is served by an Audinet Dante distribution system. "We needed the audio to run over IP and deliver all channels without long and expensive cable runs," explains Timo Ruohomäki who handles IT at the Music House. "The Dante platform delivers all the signals and we have used Yamaha DME24N and MDME64N processors and amplifiers."

Starlike, a Finnish professional sound and lighting company, installed the L-Acoustics KIVA WST line source system. Two hangs of nine and two hangs of eight KIVA units are flown from a suspended ceiling. These are supported by two vertically mounted SB198I subwoofers and is powered by LA8 amplified controllers. The integrator also provided four LA4’s as floor monitors.

A DiGiCo SD8 mixing console and two MaDiRacks have been deployed in the main hall. On the input side, a Sennheiser wireless microphone system has been adopted and is compatible with products used by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. AKG, Schoeps, Shure and beyerdynamic microphones are also used in this space. AMX control is used for microphone set up.

Powerful visuals can be created in this area with a Barco projector, installed in the ceiling, firing onto to a suspended screen. Ruohomäki explains that for events involving a presenter The Music House often calls on a rental partner to provide a rear projection set up.

The five smaller concert halls use d&b audiotechnik loudspeakers but the mixing and amplification is largely the same as the larger concert hall. Again all signals are delivered over the Dante network. DiGiCo and Yamaha feature again in the smaller spaces. Amplification and processing is handled by Yamaha and a mix of DiGiCo SD8 and SD9 consoles are installed here as well as MaDiRacks and D-Racks. A similar high brightness projection system, based on Barco units, is installed in each of these smaller spaces.

The classrooms all provide presentation equipment with much of it transferred from previous usage within the Sibelius Academy. Audico Systems was hired as the contractor for these areas. Each space uses interactive whiteboards and LG LCD displays that range from 32" to 60". InFocus IN5110 WUXGA data projectors fire onto Euroscreen projection screens. DVD and Bluray sources are handled by Oppo units and Lumens PS-650 document cameras are provided. Tannoy Mercury V1 passive loudspeakers have been deployed across these spaces.

Two digital signage networks serve the whole of the Music House. The content is delivered via locally installed Linux boxes. A custom management system was designed in-house as Ruohomäki said no software could be found to provide the management and scheduling that was required to give prominence to featured concerts and events.

Genelec 8260, 8250 and 8240 active monitors are installed into shelves within walls and hung from the ceilings in the recording and edit studios, which also utilise Yamaha DM1000 digital audio mixers and ProTools 912 Digital I/O’s.

A LifeSize Team 220 videoconferencing system is provided in two meeting rooms and the auditorium. In the auditorium this capability is largely used by the Sibelius Academy which beams guest lecturers in from anywhere in the world. It’s also a useful resource to offer customers who wish to hire the facility. Ruohomäki explains that Finnish universities all have their own network and it is very cheap for them to take advantage of very high bandwidth so, on the network side at least, videoconferencing does not carry a high price tag.

AV presentation equipment and the videoconferencing set up is all controlled by a number of Crestron systems and based on a Crestron digital matrix. In some of the smaller meeting rooms and classrooms Crestron AV2 control systems are supported with Extron switchers and Biamp audio mixers have been implemented. Crestron touch screen control panels are found at various points throughout the Music House to provide staff with the ability to manage the AV equipment.

"The building’s network is both fibre and copper Cat6a," says Ruohomäki. "The building has three mains transformers connected to 10 kV supply. The electricity needed by audio and lighting systems is fed from separate mains transformers. The cabling routes were planned so that the signal cables are not run too close to electrical wiring."

"A unique approach was taken when designing the common network," he continues. "The contractors were not allowed to install their own switches, instead all systems were connected to their own VLANs and protected with two firewalls.

"In a project like this where are so many different systems running the integration between systems is always a challenge," he continues. "In this case the scopes have been clear and the systems do what they were planned to do. The future will show how easy it will be to keep them up to date."

Ruohomäki praises the system’s ability to control various types of equipment including IP, serial controls and infrared.

He does note that the AV control systems would be more flexible if it were possible for the user to change configurations, layouts and so on. "[At the moment] the system can only be programmed by the system integrator, and this can cause problems when the equipment and setups are constantly changing," he adds.

It’s not very often a project of this scale is built from scratch. The auditorium alone would provide enough material for an entire article. However, what needs to be conveyed in this overview is the skill that was required to co-ordinate so many separate contractors and varying stakeholder demands to create a coherent and usable space.


AKG microphones
AMX control system for microphones
Beyerdynamic microphones
Biamp audio mixers
D&b audiotechnik loudspeakers
DiGiCo SD8 mixing consoles, D-Racks and MaDiRacks
Genelec active monitors
L-Acoustics line source system and subwoofers
Schoeps microphones
Sennheiser wireless microphone system
Shure microphones
Tannoy Mercury V1 passive loudspeakers
Yamaha processors, mixers and amplifiers


Barco projectors
Crestron control systems, digital matrixes and touch panels
Euroscreen projection screens
Extron switchers
InFocus data projectors
LG LCD displays.
LifeSize videoconferencing systems
Lumens document cameras
Oppo DVD and Bluray players

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