Ready for corporate life at Leeds University Business School

A new home for business scholars at the University of Leeds had to feel more like an office than a university. Paul Milligan finds out how that was achieved.

In business the saying goes you have to invest to succeed. In order to create the next generation of business leaders, Leeds University Business School (LUBS) has done just that. The Esther Simpson Building is a new £35 million (€41m) multi-storey teaching facility that will act as the ‘heart’ of the Business School.

It’s a highly specialist teaching facility, home to collaborative and inclusive learning spaces, and also with the flexibility to host events. The Business School wanted to create a space that would house postgraduates to remove the need to travel across the campus to different teaching environments. The Business School faculty is home to graduates right through to CEOs, as well as a range of guest speakers from blue-chip corporates, so the AV systems have to reflect that.

Tasked with supplying technology to enable future entrepreneurs was system integrator Universal AV. The company was initially brought on-board as a design consultant to discuss the new build and specify the AV systems to be installed and put out for tender. As part of this process, campus wide teaching standards were taken into consideration alongside the collaborative teaching rooms the Business School had already installed. The next stage involved BAM being awarded the construction project and Universal AV winning the tender to carry out the AV integration.

Looking back at the first meeting with the client, what was the brief for the project? “It began with just one sentence – state-of-the-art technology for a state-of-the-art business university, that was it,” says Chris Gardner, technical director, Universal AV.

Does the fact that it’s a business school change or alter the design from other university projects the integrator has worked on, which will have been multi-disciplinary, did this project have a specific set of technological needs? “The University has a baseline they work to, that was all factored in. But there were certain areas that were more enhanced, where it wanted to put in different technology and do things slightly differently. It does have more of a business feel than a normal education building. They wanted the feel of the building to be as if you were walking into a big corporate organisation, rather than knowing you were walking into a more traditional university,” says Gardner.

The teaching environments for Universal AV to design and install AV technology within included different teaching spaces such as the flagship Harvard Style lecture theatre. Within the Esther Simpson building visitors will also find flat floored collaborative teaching environments, seminar rooms, trading rooms, behaviour labs, a data collection lab, an observation room, and a student boardroom and other informal areas, all packed with AV.The Harvard Style lecture theatre provides a wow factor upon entrance thanks to its elegant design, it’s a 240-seat horseshoe-shaped lecture theatre with triple Panasonic projection.

The lecture theatre is gently raked to provide clear visibility from every seat. In a clever element of design, the seats will also turn 180 degrees to allow collaboration to take place with the person behind and to the side. Each seat has its own power supply and microphone to allow for multiple people to debate within the space. Lecture capture and live streaming systems have been installed to allow for distance an flexible learning to take place. The Esther Simpson Building also includes a more ‘traditional’ lecture theatre which can accommodate 390 attendees in raked seating, again with triple Panasonic projection at the front, and again with lecture capture and live streaming systems.

Having previously installed these spaces in areas of the Business School, the University developed two further Flat Floored Fixed Collaborative Teaching Spaces. The first is a 100-seat space, installed with Dalen Synergy’s collaborative tables, Panasonic displays and a central teaching podium. The room allows for two-way collaboration between the individual station and the academic. The second 100-seater flat floored flexible/interactive room has Clevertouch displays so students can collaborate on the screen and present their work to the lecturer or the whole class. The central teaching podium was devised with LUBS previously when academics felt teaching from the middle was more conducive to collaboration.

Four Flexible/Interactive Collaborative spaces use Clevertouch interactive displays, and two standard ceiling mounted Panasonic projectors. The teaching rooms are a mix of collaborative and interactive styles, some have fixed furniture and some have flexible furniture to allow for different styles of teaching. The Esther Simpson Building has two 32-seat Trading Rooms, having these rooms allows students to practice trading in a safe environment using real-time information. The room is vital for students to bridge the gap between theory and practice, giving students the opportunity to apply finance theories to decision making through real world scenarios.

The Behaviour Labs are divided into three areas, the Data Collection Lab, the Observation Room and the Boardroom. The Data Collection Lab is for full-time faculty members and PGR students who exclusively conduct experimental research. The Control/Observation Room will accommodate a small group of observers and is equipped to monitor and record the activities in the Boardroom through a one-way glass screen. This allows people to monitor and review real time situations and gauge reactions.

The Boardroom (Behaviour Lab 2) is a flexible space which can be used to create business scenarios. It will be used to study the dynamics of social interactions, leadership observations, or competitive tasks. The room is equipped with a projector (to observe presentations or record them) and audio recording equipment (to enable recording of presentations). It also features broader video recording equipment so that sessions can be recorded of the behaviours and presentations of people in the room. The recording facilities have the ability to zoom in, so that those monitoring can hone in on individuals from the observation area to observe body language and listen to conversations.Finally, the Gareth Jones Student Boardroom has an occupancy of 18. It enables students to host group meetings, practice their communication, presentation and persuasion skills and simulate the setting of a corporate boardroom.

The room has two Clevertouch interactive displays installed and video conferencing facilities to allow for internal and external collaboration to take place. On the lower ground floor there is a communal breakout area which can be used for students to socialise. There are perch seats in some corridors and a small seating area above the central atrium space with acoustic booths and screens to dampen the noise from below.The biggest challenge for Universal AV was the pandemic says Gardner, work began on the Esther Simpson building in November 2019, with handover to the University in May 2021, with teaching commencing in September 2021. So it ran through the very worst days of the Covid outbreak. “There were restrictions on how many people could work on the same floor at the same time. On a Friday you’d have to tell the builders what you were planning on doing the following week. You could only have two painters, two electricians etc on one floor at a time. There were set times for lunch, and breaks, and designated areas in which to have those breaks.”

How did Universal AV make the technological choices it made on this project? “The mainstay of the equipment is kit that is already working across the estate,” says Gardner. “It is kit they are comfortable with. Universities have so many people come into one space that they just want to concentrate on delivering a lecture, they don’t want someone to come into a space and have to have a degree in rocket science to be able to use an AV system. A lot of the technology is kit we've factored in across the whole estate across the last three or four years. It's a lot of products we're very aware of, with some added extras for things like Microsoft Teams capability.”

This project is the culmination of a 30-year relationship between Universal AV and Leeds University, and it’s this long-term relationship that produces seamless projects such as the Esther Simpson building. It may be brand new, but its technology fits alongside other buildings across the campus to create a familiar feel for lecturers and students alike. Part of the design team for this project included ‘super users’ from the university, who were given product training by Universal AV and manufacturers and who would then train their colleagues with that knowledge, to increase adoption of the AV technology. As in any higher education project, the system integrator had to consider that end users can have very different levels of knowledge (and enthusiasm) for new technology.

“Our ethos is that it should be three buttons to present,” says Gardner. “It had to be intuitive, especially in the Harvard, there’s push to talk systems, multiple cameras auto-tracking, there's a lot going on, but the brief was three buttons to press and off you go.” The job Universal AV has done has certainly been well received, Tamsin Barrow, LUBS, commented; “We have built an innovative flagship building fit for the future. The technology installed is flexible enough to adapt to our future needs. Universal AV worked with us to ensure that this was possible and met our needs every step of the way. Dr Helen Hughes, associate professor, LUBS added: “These state-of-the-art facilities place us at the forefront of the sector, enabling us to both develop innovative research designs, whilst simultaneously providing opportunities to enhance our teaching practices.”



Beyerdynamic BM32 Boundary mic, MPR210 boundary mics
Biamp 6.6-in ceiling loudspeakers, 2-channel amplifiers
Extron amplifiers, ProDSP digital matrix processors
JBL CBT1000 line arrays, CBT1000E extension


Clevertouch 55-in, 65-in, 86-in UXPro interactive displays
Crestron AirMedia Presentation System
Dalen Top-Tec Aries1 Duo Lectern, Aries1 Mono lectern, Synergy3 Blade workstation
Extron 4K matrix switchers
iiyama 22-in LED monitor, 25-in LED monitor
JM Supplies Director 1000 credenza
Logitech BRIO UHD webcams, PTZ Pro USB camera
Metroplan Eyeline 16:10 electric screens
Optoma 3MP document cameras
Panasonic PT-FRZ50WEJ projectors, 43-in, 49-in UHD LED displays
Scanlite P5 LED screens

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