Flexible AV at The Spine has created a monument to health and wellbeing

The new building for the Royal College of Physicians is a monument to health and wellbeing. Paul Milligan went to see how flexible AV plays a huge part in stimulating the body and mind.

The Spine, the Royal College of Physicians’ (RCP) new £35 million northern headquarters in Liverpool, takes its name from a staircase that resembles human vertebrae. The clever architectural design - by architectural and building consultancy practice AHR - doesn’t end there. The façade takes its design from the human skin, the Voronoi pattern includes 23 million individual polygons applied to the glazing of the building. This mathematical pattern, found in biology, medicine and epidemiology, assists in solar control within the building (local taxi drivers have dubbed it ‘the giraffe’). The Spine is one of the first buildings in the UK designed to achieve the prestigious WELL Platinum standard and is one of the healthiest workspaces for mental and physical wellbeing in the country.

The RCP is the oldest medical college in England. Its 40,000 members work in hospitals and the community across 30 different medical specialties and range from medical students to retired doctors. The RCP was looking for a new building outside of its London home, and once it chose the city of Liverpool, the process of designing and building The Spine began.

The Spine is located within the £1 billion Paddington Village development, which has been created to boost the study and research of life-science, healthcare and technology industries in the city’s Knowledge Quarter. RCP at The Spine in Liverpool provides events, activities and services to its members in the north of England and helps to achieve its vision of a world in which everyone has the best possible health and healthcare.

The bottom three and top four floors of The Spine provide a centre of clinical excellence for the RCP, as well as an award-winning event venue, Spaces at The Spine. The remaining seven floors offer modern workspaces for organisations in those sectors mentioned above.

Upon entering The Spine for the first time, visitors are immediately stuck by one of the major areas of biophilic intervention, rather than a standard atrium found in a typical commercial building, The Spine features a series of double height spaces known as vertical villages which represent lungs in the building. Whilst improving connectivity between the floors with helical stairs, the spaces contain a mix of plants and trees to reduce both carbon dioxide and toxin levels in the building whilst also producing oxygen.

The building was designed by Rob Hopkins for architects AHR, the technology consultant on the project was Recursive and the system integrator was Pure AV. Recursive were first contacted by Ben Pain, head of AV resources at the RCP, three years ago and after initial conversations were invited to participate in the competitive tender. “I think it was our previous experience with other similar, unique institutions that probably won through. We understood this wasn't just going to be a normal office building,” says Paul Marshall, senior technology consultant, Recursive. Pure AV won a competitive tender after initially being contacted personally by Pain, after receiving recommendations on their work from peers in the AV User Group and LTSMG (Learning & Teaching Spaces Managers Group) and began working on the first phase of the project when a test site was created using two floors of a building across the road from The Spine while construction took place. Pain has been involved with the project for six years and the process has been a labour of love for him, and one ‘with a difficult birth’ he admitted.

The first AV in the building can be found in the reception area in the form of two 1x2 LG videowalls, driven by Tripleplay digital signage players and Datapath processors. The entrance is also home to portable 1.9mm pixel pitch LED digital totem displays from NEC, used for wayfinding and event registration. Alongside the plant life in the reception area, the ground floor is also home to The Base café and an elegant double-ceiling-height events space called The Steps. The first floor is a membership space and also a space for smaller companies or small medical organisations that want to have a presence in Liverpool. It’s home to a member’s lounge which features an 86-in LG LFD, Tripleplay digital signage player, Neets soundbar, a 5-in touchpanel from QSC, and like the other AV-enabled spaces in the building features the ability to send/receive content from anywhere else in The Spine, thanks to QSC AVoIP system. a Mersive wireless presentation system provides the ability for wireless presentations.

A meeting room on the first floor is typical of ones around the building, it features a 65-in LG LFD, Logitech conference camera, Extron screen controller and room sensors, Onelan Reserva Edge room booking panels and the Mersive platform.
The tenth floor is a workspace area, and features six meeting rooms and a breakout room, with LG LFDs, Logitech Tap meeting room touch controllers and conference cameras, Onelan Reserva panels and Extron room sensors and screen controllers.
Visitors to the eleventh floor could be forgiven for thinking they have walked into a hospital, as it features 28 medical consultation rooms. It is in these Dinwoodie and Jerwood Exam Rooms where RCP members take part in PACE and OSCE medical assessments and exams, to perfect ‘bedside manner’ or tests to find the right diagnosis. There is a central AV control desk, deliberately modelled as a hospital nursing station, from where examiners can speak to all rooms or individual rooms, they can hear audio individually from one room or all rooms, and they can send audio to the lift lobby, the patient holding room, the examiner rooms, the exam corridors and the reception area.

Because exam sessions are timed, bespoke clock software has been installed which integrates into both the QSC media playback system and the TriplePlay digital signage system. AV in the rooms is the same, but the rooms are different shapes for different scenarios. All 28 rooms feature a 43-in LG LFD, Tripleplay digital signage player, 180-degree ceiling mounted camera, Clockaudio beam forming Dante mics suspended from the ceiling (so as to be unobtrusive as possible), Onelan Reserva panels and Cloud ceiling speakers. This floor provided one of the biggest design and implementation challenges of the projects admits Marshall. “This is an example of stretching a piece of equipment to do something it’s not necessarily designed to do. We’re actually using CCTV technology that’s tied into the (QSC) Q-SYS system. We’re also getting audio into the CCTV system and back out again.” All 28 rooms can be used an individual meeting rooms, and each one has the ability to host Teams calls.
The floor also houses patient and examiner holding rooms. During exams the examiners, patients and candidates are kept separate between exams and the debriefs that follow are held in these spaces.

On the twelfth floor, visitors will find more stunning use of AV technology in education and event spaces Six, Seven, Eight and Nine, as well as Spaces Four and Five, the Wolfson Lecture Theatre and the Wolfson Virtual Theatre. The four spaces can function individually or be joined together via divisible walls. 

Audio is provided in each space via Bose MA12 line arrays, Cloud subs, with Bose speakers and Sennheiser TeamConnect 2 mics fitted in the ceiling. The display in each room is a massive 98-in NEC interactive screen, QSC touchpanels control the in-room AV, with QSC front and reverse PTZ cameras and AVoIP encoders completing the picture alongside Mersive and Onelan
as previously mentioned. These rooms represent a design philosophy you will see repeated around the building – cables are at minimum, and AV is out of the way, there to do a job, not to be seen.

The Wolfson Lecture theatre seats 48 people, and display technology is provided around the room via one 98-in interactive NEC displays and one 98-in LG display (with custom bezel to fit nicely beside the larger interactive display) and six 43-in LG repeater and confidence screens. Control is via an 11-in QSC touchpanel, audio is via Sennheiser TCC2 ceiling and speech line digital wireless handheld and lavaliere mics, Cloud subs, and Bose speakers. Additional presentation technology is provided via Kaptivo boards and an Elmo visualiser. The Wolfson Virtual theatre is a nod to a more streaming/remote learning/video conferencing future. It can seat between 16-24 in the room itself (depending on seat config), but via an LG LCD 3x6 videowall a lecturer can also include up to 48 additional participants on the videowall to join in too.

Pain explains how it works; “The lecturer can talk to all of them as a group and can then split them into separate groups to do breakout work. The whole thing is recorded. As a lecturer you can split into four screens and people join via WebRTC. The lecturer can see all of them - who’s got their hand up, who doesn’t have their hand up etc. Everybody on the other side has the opportunity to present their screen if they need to.” The sessions are run through the MashMe collaboration software, audio in the space is provided by Bose speakers hidden above the videowall behind acoustically transparent cloth. The Virtual Theatre is more akin to a live TV production studio than a lecture theatre, but this is undoubtedly how the majority of these spaces will be designed over the next decade to meet hybrid working/learning demands. Dante-enabled portable Bose speakers are also provided to allow the room to be opened out into the foyer serving as a breakout space for larger events.
Finally, the top floor of the building features destination dining space The Axis, boasting stunning panoramic views across Liverpool (The Spine is at the highest viewpoint in Liverpool). A lot of the AV already mentioned (86-in display, Bose speaker, Onelan Resevera QSC backbone, etc.) is integrated in The Axis to facilitate its use as an event space.

The floor also features two additional event spaces (Spaces One and Space Two), which can be combined into one larger space for up to 330 people via a central divisible wall. Each room features two 98-in LG displays in bespoke cabinets, which also house more AV kit (eg QSC PTZ cameras). The rooms also feature an AV control desk for the in-hours AV team to run during events.

Did the finished project differ much from the original plans during such a ‘difficult birth’? “I don’t think it fundamentally changed. It did evolve of course,” says Richard Smith, associate director, Recursive. “It was always about flexibility and about not being locked into a particular way of doing something.” There were two significant challenges in this project according to Recursive, Covid struck right in the middle of the design stage, impacting on supply and fit-out. The other was the network. “We were stretching the manufacturer’s technology in terms of use. All of the manufacturers have different levels of quality of service and different requirements, so fitting it all onto one network, and then making sure that traffic passes correctly without glitches between the necessary systems is tough. We’ve got assistive hearing systems, AVoIP, Dante, Q-SYS, Tripleplay, telephony, and they’ve all got their own different set of unique requirements and white papers, detailing down to the binary level in some cases, of the requirements they need. That was a huge challenge for Pure AV but also the RCP’s network team, in terms of not being familiar with AV as a networked system. It was a steep learning curve for all, but everyone reacted extremely well to being able to find out what these problems are and determine whether it’s a problem with the hardware or the firmware, whether it’s a physical problem with the cabling on patching, or whether it’s a network configuration problem,” explains Marshall.

QSC’s Q-SYS platform was absolutely fundamental to this project, in order for the AV to be moved around The Spine, and for cables to be minimised, it had to take on a massive workload, and be incredibly reliable. In fact, the original number of network points was tripled from the first M&E plan once Recursive has decided the network was going to host all the AV. “It gives us flexibility,” explains Smith. “It’s a data point, it might be carrying audio now, but next week it could be video, or it could be repurposed as a WAP.”

The challenge for Recursive and Pure AV was that Q-SYS was so new at the time of install. “It was fresh out of the box. We’d seen early development concepts of it, so it was a learning curve for us in terms of how to design the system and the  limitations and requirements of that,” says Marshall. “The control element had never been used quite to the extent we’re using it here. It’s well established in the audio world, but we were stretching the control and video elements and the philosophy of being able to move any signal from any room to any other room,” adds Smith. “Nothing’s physically connected, everything’s very heavily reliant on the network, that had its challenges in itself, because there was very little we could test until the network was in place. And the network wasn’t in place until the building was handed over,” says Daniel Saville, system designer and product manager, Pure AV. “There’s a lot going on in the background here. It’s very simple at the front end, but if you go to the comms rooms there’s a lot in the background that’s making everything here work.”

Did the strong architectural desires of this project create difficulties for Recursive and Pure AV in designing complimentary AV systems? Thankfully not it seems, “We loved working with AHR to make sure that the technology is an integral part of it, rather than something that is bolted on later on,” says Smith.

Speaking to everyone involved, it’s clear this is a project that has only finished phase one, there are immediate plans to adapt and improve on what is already a flagship project. Has the project achieved its aims from an AV point of view? “Absolutely,” says Pain. “We have a building that offers a level of flexibility that I don’t think many other buildings offer. We are a membership organisation, we’re an educational organisation, we’re a training body, we’re a research space, we have small museum status and we’re a commercial venue. And we’re doing all that over seven floors. “We needed AV that did more than one thing and did all the things that it did well. And we’ve got that.”


Allen & Heath SQ-5 mixing desks
Apart Audio PMR4000RMK11 media players
Atterotech UND4I-L Dante I/O interfaces
Audinate analogue/Dante converters
Biamp TCM-1, TCM-X-EX mics, Forte CI AVB DSP
BlackMagic ATEM 1 M/E video switcher
Bose MA12, DM3C, DM6SE, DM5C loudspeakers, DM8C subwoofers
ClockAudio C303W-D beam forming Dante mics
Cloud CS-CSUB8W subwoofers
Crown amplifiers
Extron SM3, SM4 loudspeakers, MPA152 amplifiers
Glensound Dark 16AO Dante I/O interfaces
Neets SB1 soundbars
Revolabs HD mic receivers
Sennheiser TeamConnect 2 mics, MobileConnect assistive hearing system, MZH 3015 gooseneck mics, lapel mics, handheld mics,
Stewart Audio AV 8-2-LZ Dante amplifiers
Yamaha XMV8140-D, XMV4140-D Dante amplifiers


Aten US3344i USB matrix
Datapath FX4 video processors
Dynascan DS551DR4 55-in dual displays
Elmo visualisers
Elo 2202L touch monitors
Extron HD CTL 100 screen controllers, OCS 100 room sensors, DTP HDMI 4K 230 Tx DTP transmitter
Kaptivo digital whiteboards
Lindy USB Hubs
LG 43-in, 49-in, 65-in, 86-in, 98-in LFDs, 55-in videowalls
Logitech Meetup conference cameras, PTZ Pro cameras, Tap VC touchscreens
MashMe collaboration software
NEC 98-in interactive LFDs
Netgear GS716Tv3 AVB network switch
Onelan Reserva Edge room booking displays
Mersive Solstice Pods
NEC 1.9mm LED Digital Posters
Samsung Flip interactive displays
Tripleplay digital signage player
QSC TSC-55W-G2, TSC-116W-G2-BK touchpanels, Q-SYS Core 110f processor, NV-32-H AVoIP encoder
Viewsonic CDE6561T 65-in interactive




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