Riding the Wave at the University of Sheffield

Paul Milligan got a tour of a new building at The University of Sheffield which is bringing seven departments together in the name of collaborative working.

All images: HLM Architects


With a history tracing back to 1828, the University of Sheffield has been consistently ranked in the top 10 in the UK and in the top 100 globally in the last decade. It has been growing steadily in recent years, with a big increase in overseas students wanting to study at a Russell Group (a collective of 24 leading UK universities) institution. This expansion in student numbers has created a need for more space, which has resulted in a £70m (approximately €82m) 16,600sq m architectural project for a new home for the Faculty of Social Sciences, which encompasses departments such as the School of Education, Information School, Sheffield Methods Institute, Sociological Studies, and Journalism studies amongst others. Named The Wave, it provides a modern learning environment for students using collaborative tools and brings seven different disciplines under the same roof for the first time.

The building is home to the interdisciplinary research institutes and centres, which were previously split across Sheffield, now all under one roof. The building was designed by HLM Architects with sustainability at its core. Ground source heat pumps have been installed to maximise the opportunity created by thermal warmth and provide cooling in the summer. The building has two entrances leading to a central atrium with a stunning glass roof structure flooding the area with daylight. Built on the site of former sports pitches and a reservoir network, right in the heart of the city, the design phase for The Wave began in 2016, and after overcoming some challenging building issues, was officially opened to students for the start of the new academic year in September 2023.

Tasked with supplying the AV for such a substantial project was proAV, one of the UK’s largest system integrators. It was contacted back in 2018 to tender for a broadcast studio by NG Bailey (the M&E contractor), but as plans changed proAV was asked to supply all the AV for The Wave. What were the clients aims for the technology before it began this process? It’s perhaps not surprising to hear that such a large investment not only has to work for right now, but for the next decade too explains Jonathan Cunningham, senior business manager at proAV. “It was looking to really futureproof with the technology that’s gone in. Using AV over IP allows the University a lot more flexibility within the systems and within the use of the building. You can very easily stream a lecture or presentation from one theatre to another. If they’ve got an open day, you can have every single display showing the same piece of content, it’s very much looking forward to the future.”

As mentioned previously once you walk through the doors of The Wave you are immediately met by the majesty of the atrium, but the ground floor also offers students and visitors other impressive spaces in the form of three large lecture theatres and two work rooms. Lecture Room One seats more than 400 students, the room features three Panasonic 8,000 lumens laser projectors, projecting onto two screens (there are plans to add four more projectors and two more screens to aid visibility for all attendees). The room, like the other lecture theatres on the ground floor, features architecture including wooden panels on the walls and exposed concrete ceilings. To combat any acoustical issue, subtle white acoustic panels have been fitted throughout to soften any unwanted reflections. “There was a big focus on getting that right, there’s a lot of concrete, that’s why you got the baffles in the ceiling. The sound is quite lively, which is why we are just using radio mics,” explains Cunningham.

The lecturer works from a fixed Top-Tec bespoke teaching desk, which has a Wolfvision UHD visualiser built-in, and also has a small rack under the table featuring AMX encoders, Sennheiser radio mics, QSC amps and a Q-Sys Core DSP. The lecturer has the option of plugging in their own laptop or to use a 24-in Smart Podium Pro touchscreen (similar to a mini interactive whiteboard) instead, on which they can annotate their work. Crestron AirMedia allows the lecturers the freedom to walk around the lecture theatre to speak to individual students, and still use their own device. To aid collaboration, chairs can swing around 180-degrees to face people behind, if they want to work or discuss something in small groups. Audio is handled via 12 JBL pendant speakers, 4 QSC loudspeakers and 2 QSC subwoofers. Two Sony PTZ cameras at the rear, and another one at the front make sure every angle is covered if the lecture is being recorded using the Echo360 platform. To ensure security, the PC and touchscreen on the lectern turns itself off after 10 minutes of inactivity, so it doesn’t cause an issue if the lecturer walks away without logging off.

Accessibility requirements are covered via several removable desk positions at the front of the theatre, and for those with hearing requirements, Williams AV Induction Loops have been installed throughout. Lecture Theatre 2 follows a similar AV path, with a capacity of 250-300 students. It features three Panasonic laser projectors, two PTZs (front and back), and ten JBL pendant speakers. As part of the desire to futureproof itself, the University has adopted NDI technology, “With NDI we can stream wherever you are, we can take the camera and the audio from any lecture theatre and feed that out to any other lecture theatre. When we have a conference, we can do it without plugging into the entire system. We can just use that. Because we have the AMX AVoIP encoders as well, we can take content from lecture theatres and send it down to our TV studio, which is in the middle of another campus and we can bring them in as sources, so we can run productions completely remote from another venue,” says Cunningham.

The streaming is so widely utilised in fact, that on the day Inavate visited, a University owned and operated public house down the street from the University was live streaming the summer graduation to family members who couldn’t get tickets for the main ceremony. Having that flexibility also allows the IT team to offer other services to the faculty, as explained by Ian Knowles, head of teaching technology, media and event support at the University of Sheffield. “We offer something called Creative Media Service, where we go to the lecturers and say perhaps you might teach this a different way - You’re offering this module as a dissertation or exam, why don’t you get students to make a podcast or a film?”.

Knowles and his team offer students and lecturers closed off booths, all filled with different recording technology. The two work rooms feature the same control technology as the lecture theatres, but instead of projection feature three Panasonic 86-in 4K LFDs due to the room’s architecture not lending itself easily to projection. What else differentiates the work rooms from the lecture theatres? “They are a different learning model, more collaborative, more flexible,” says Knowles. The thinking being, if there are new ways to produce work/make content, why not make them available to all? The first floor is home to two lecture theatres, three IT labs, four seminar rooms and five journalism rooms, all packed with flexible, modern AV systems. The seminar rooms come in different sizes, there are four 10-person classrooms, eight 20-person classrooms, two 30-person and two60-person. Panasonic LFDs are dotted around each one, ranging in size from 55-in to 65-in to 75-in.

The seminar rooms are for working collaboratively and in groups. “One of the keys to this whole project is offering a variety of spaces, so that a variety of lecturers on different subjects can all use them,” says Knowles. Content, in each room can be driven from the lecturer at the front or students can work in small groups together and share their content wirelessly to their nearest screen. The tutor, rather than having their own screen, can push wireless content to a screen nearest to their current position. To make it as flexible as possible, all cabling in these rooms is hidden within a raised-access floor, and some of the AV switching is hidden in the columns of the Top-Tec furniture for each screen. The biggest of the three IT labs on the first floor features some clever pop-up desks made by Top-Tec. With a capacity of 80 students, when a catch is released on each desk, a screen, keyboard and mouse appears from a hidden shelf below.

The fact that the screens can be hidden after use, allows more flexibility for the labs to be used as regular classrooms too. The labs are all complimented by 86-in Panasonic LFDs, Crestron AirMedia and AMX switchers and encoders, with audio by QSC. The first floor is also home to five newsrooms, for journalism students, featuring Panasonic 55-in screens, Crestron AirMedia and AMX AVoIP systems. The second floor and third floor are home to academic offices, more AV can be found in 21 breakout rooms and a boardroom, all running Google Meet with Logitech UC hardware. All these spaces can be booked via Google Calendar. One nice extra touch is in the boardroom, where a bespoke box has been built to house the Logitech mics in the ceiling to ensure an uncluttered desk space for all faculty board members. The University has made the decision to standardise its AV kit, not just right across The Wave, but across all its sites, so some of the kit chosen above has just been a case of the University adding to existing stock from its preferred brands. The University may be ‘an AMX house’ traditionally, but the AMX AVoIP system was brand new says Cunningham, “it’s fairly new to us and to the marketplace.”

All racks and equipment were built off-site and tested off-site he adds, as is the proAV default way of project installs. So what was the biggest challenge on this job? “It’s keeping AV at the forefront of the M&E contractor and the builders minds as their focus was in building the building. Whilst AV is a really important part of that because it’s so far down the line in the whole process it perhaps doesn’t get the priority, or the focus that it needs, because other people’s focus is elsewhere.”

Because streaming around the campus is a big part of this project, that also posed a challenge says Cunningham. “There are several different networks in there, AVoIP VLAN, control VLAN and an audio VLAN as well. The University are quite advanced, in terms of a lot of the AV stuff already on the network, so it doesn’t come as a particular surprise to them. But we did have to have conversations about the bandwidth on the network, because this is the first major project they’ve done with AVoIP in a single building so it needed a lot of careful consideration from ourselves and from the network team.” The solution was a series of independent network switches put into each equipment rack, and each lectern, to manage all the different interfaces for the hardware.

Walking around The Wave it’s clear that the finished project is a direct result of a colossal amount of consultation between the faculty and Ian Knowles’ IT team. And it’s obvious too, this process was followed by massive collaborative effort between the system integrator proAV and the IT team to make sure everything is flexible, futureproof and fit for purpose. The AV systems installed offer as much flexibility as is currently possible, ensuring that rooms offer a comfortable teaching and learning environment, but also that they can teach a variety of subjects, ensuring space can be maximised at all times.



JBL C65P/T pendant speakers
QSC AD-S162T-WH loudspeakers, AD-S112 sw-WH subwoofers, CX-Q4K8-EUamplifiers, QSC Core Nano, Q-Sys Core DSP
Sennheiser SL Lavalier set, GA4 Rackmount kit for mic receivers
Williams W-WF-R1Wavecast receiver

AMX NMX-ENC-N2312 N2300 encoders, NMX-DEC-N2322 N2300 decoders, MD-702-BL 7-in Modero, SDX-414-DX, Solecis switcher, MCP-106-BL, Massio controlpad touch panels, NX-2200 NetLinxNX controllers
CrestronAM-3100-WF-I AirMedia receivers

Echo30 video platform
Logitech Rally videobars, Tap meeting room controllers, MeetUp cameras
Onelan NTB-4K-1000F-S 4K player
Panasonic RZ890 laser projectors, TH86CQE1 86-in LFDs, TH75CQE1 75-in LFDs, TH-55VF2W 55-in LFDs, TH65CQE1 65-in LFDs, TH-43CQE1W 43-in LFDs
Peerless DS-VW755S videowall mount
Screen International Flatmax projection screen
Smart SP624P 24-in Podium Pro display
Sony SRG- X400WC IP PTZ cameras
Wolfvision VZ-3neo UHD B visualisers

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