Law and order

An aesthetically and technologically outstanding installation at 99 Bishopsgate in London has left major international corporate lawyers Latham & Watkins with client facing spaces to match their prestige status.

It’s the kind of project system designers dream of. The opportunity to work for a major international corporation on a prestige project with a brief to produce a technically advanced project and a budget to match. Such was the chance afforded to Senior Associate Andrew Smith and his team from consulting firm Shen, Milsom & Wilke when they were charged with delivering a suite of client facing meeting rooms for the award winning London offices of international law firm Latham & Watkins.

Part of the 99 Bishopsgate tower in central London, the new offices were designed by architects HLW of London and include 13 meeting rooms of various sizes each equipped with appropriate AV technology.

Latham & Watkins has customers ranging from financial institutions to nation states, and as such their priorities were clear: “The key thing about this project was the aesthetic finish because it’s a client facing environment.” Remarked Andrew Smith, whilst showing InAVate around the finished project. And in that stated aim, all parties have succeeded.

From the smallest eight seat meeting rooms, to the largest 40 seat “Room Seven” main boardroom there is an impressive continuity of quality and technology. As you enter the main lobby, corridors lead away left and right of the lift. The walls are decorated with back-lit scenes of London. The smaller meeting rooms are walled by frosted glass to maintain client privacy, and this is coupled with a very high degree of acoustic isolation throughout.

System integrator Asysco won a closely contested, competitive tender process to secure the contract to implement a full AV system designed by SM&W.

The centre-piece of this significant investment by Latham & Watkins is Room Seven, a forty seat boardroom. The room is dominated by the large, central table. Custom designed for L&W, it includes a number of innovative features.

Between each pair of seats is a surface mounted Crown Audio MB series boundary microphone. The pick-up fields of these were modelled by SM&W to give the optimal arrangement for consistent voice capture. Each microphone is also paired with a simple LED lit push button allowing delegates to switch of the microphone and engage in private discussion. Using surface mount microphones in this way has provided a much more elegant micing solution than conventional congress equipment with gooseneck microphones and so forth. Especially as there was no requirement for voting, or translation functionality.

Under the shining solid wood surface lies more technology. Table top tanks hold a number of I/O option and power connections. There are US, EU, and UK power outlets for a variety of international visitors, Ethernet connections for laptops as well as SVGA inputs for external presentations. There is also a serial port for connecting a Promethean Activpanel. An innovative cable management and connector arrangement means that all the cabling is kept hidden in the bowels of each section of the desk. And connections to the floor boxes are made by a custom-made Harting connection matrix, also designed by SM&W. This enables extremely fast connection / disconnection of all cables should the tables need to be re-arranged. The flexibility that this arrangement gave to Latham & Watkins was central to SM&W’s thinking in the project. However it posed somewhat of a headache to Asysco, as Mark Hazell explained: “The custom connection was, along with the integration in the desk, the most challenging part of the project from an engineering point of view. Assembling these units was extremely labour intensive and complex.”

One long wall is given over almost entirely to six of Mitsubishi’s largest DLP cubes. The 67” VS-67PH50U rear projection units are arranged in three pairs. Each pair is capable of displaying a different source or indeed the same source. Rear projection offers significant advantages over traditional front projection in well-lit environments such as Room Seven in terms of brightness, but also it’s a much more aesthetically pleasing solution than suspending Six projectors from a ceiling and firing them onto six motorised electronic screens.

Beneath the cubes is located a rack containing various external media sources including a Pioneer DVD / HDD player and JVC VHS player. The rack also contains a dedicated PC.

Video conferencing is also an important aspect of the room’s outfit. Five Polycom cameras are used, four mounted beneath the displays and a fifth on the back wall. The heart of the system is a VSX 8000 codec with voice integration in the form of four of Vortex audio units. Audio pick-up comes from the table mounted boundary microphones, and the video output is one or more of the DLP cubes.

A dedicated rack cupboard conceals the majority of the boardroom’s AV equipment. Extron DVS 304 and 406 scalers are used along with an Extron distribution amplifier and an MVX 88 switcher also from Extron. Due to the very large degree of control over IP employed in the installation a heavy-duty IP switch was required. This came in the shape of an NTI 24 x 24 UTP matrix switcher.

For maximum flexibility in the use of the video wall, no specifically designed video controller is used. Instead, video signals from the various sources are scaled, if required, and then routed via the matrix switcher direct to the cubes.

Along with the video switching gear, in the same rack, is the audio equipment. Amplification comes in the shape of a Crown CTs 4200 networkable amplifier. A Sabine FBX1200 handles feedback elimination for the desk and podium microphones. The speaker’s podium is equipped with a Sennheiser wireless G2 Evolution 100 series microphone system, controlled from the rack by a pair of diversity transmitters. Sound reinforcement from the boundary mics and reproduction of audio from external sources is provided by JBL Control Contractor series ceiling speakers.

Tying all of this together is the Crestron control system. All of the components were selected due their ability to be controlled over an IP network. A TPMC-10 10” touch panel on a docking station allows full control of the room’s media. This includes source selection and output choice for the video system, volume control and channel selection for the digital TV receiver.

The room is lit by Lutron lighting with a combination of ceiling spots and tubes. These are organised into four presets, which can be switched between, either by using the wall mounted push buttons or the Crestron touch panel.

Either side of Room Seven are two smaller rooms Six and Eight. Equipped with identical but smaller tables, including the same microphone and connectivity arrangements these rooms cater for 20 people each. Instead of using DLP technology both rooms are equipped with Draper Access series electronic projection screens and Infocus LP840 projectors mounted in draper Aero ceiling lifts. These rooms can serve as mid-sized meeting rooms in their own right, however they also act as extensions to Room Seven.

They are separated from the neighbouring larger room by acoustic panels. These can be removed and furniture arranged to form a space capable of catering for up to 300 people. The projectors in rooms six and eight can be fed the same content as any of the DLP cubes in room seven, allowing full participation in meetings.

Away from the main boardrooms there are ten smaller client-facing meeting rooms. These range in size from small round table rooms to meeting rooms for twelve or so. The larger of these, such as Room Eleven, utilise front projection for display purposes with further InFocus projectors and Draper access series screens.

Extron video routing and switching gear is again used, with a smaller version of the Crestron panel providing control. Identical connectivity options are included in table-top tanks, and available sources include laptop PC, DVD and VHS. Importantly the control GUIs are identical to that found in the large boardroom, providing a consistency of interface for users. Room Eleven is also fitted with a VC camera used to record interviews for training purposes.

The smallest meeting rooms seat only eight. Instead of a projection system they are equipped with 50” Panasonic LCD screens. Basic lighting control is from wall mounted push buttons, which allow users to cycle between several presets. A Polycom IP conference telephone on the round meeting table.

“The key features of this project, from an integration point of view, are not the facilities provided,” remarks Asysco’s Mark Hazell. “For us, thirteen meeting rooms with AV facilities is not a massive job, and it’s not a spectacularly high value project. The really interesting part is the level of engineering and attention to detail that has gone into the design. The universal connection system, the level of customisation on the tables, and the general requirement to make this system as simple to use, as flexible and as attractive to the eye as possible combined to make this a truly unique challenge. And one that I’m pleased to say that we’ve risen to.”

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