24.09.20

How The Flow at Houthavens encompasses wellness and 360deg projection

The Flow Houthavens - © Ronald Tilleman 200713 - P02
© Ronald Tilleman. All other pix ©Barwerd van der Plas

Wellness is the heart of a new building in Amsterdam, where corporate and lifestyle are designed to co-exist. Paul Milligan speaks to the integrator tasked with pulling those aims together in a coherent way.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, workers around the world were beginning to reassess the relationship with their workplace. Did the office make its staff feel comfortable or relaxed? Was it conducive to productivity?

Alongside this development the demand for wellness and wellness spaces has also been rising. Still quite a nascent trend, one of the first buildings to incorporate wellness philosophies within a corporate setting is The Flow, which is located in the historic Amsterdam neighbourhood of Houthavens. Currently going through a period of urban regeneration, the former timber harbor has become Amsterdam’s first climate neutral district. It’s no coincidence that The Flow is in the location it is.  

The Flow is a 5-storey office environment (It’s a multi-tenant building) where corporate and lifestyle are designed to co-exist. There are rented open workspaces, a rooftop event space, a lounge-style lobby, outdoor relaxation decks, a fitness center, and a collaborative workspace known as the ‘3sixty room’. The Flow is also the first office building in Amsterdam to receive WELL certification, which recognizes seven key strategies for maximum wellness, productivity, creativity and employee retention. 

The Flow Houthavens - 360 Room ©Barwerd van der Plas 200605 - P03

With a new build of this type, and with the stated aims of producing a comfortable and relaxing place to work but also to hang out, its perhaps no surprise that technology is employed without. Tasked with the AV consultancy, design and installation of the AV was local systems integrator Sinus Audiovisual. Sinus worked with international architects MVSA on a creative AV design plan from the very beginning. What were the client instructions to Sinus before the project began? “The aim of the building was to make a high performance, smart, wellness building, to be a very playful building which is very healthy to work in,” says Peter Kaandorp, MD, Sinus AV.

With regards to the technology the client wanted, Kaandorp was in the rare position most integrators dream of hearing; “They want to push the AV elements to the max. They wanted to put up the ultimate office building and asked what is possible. So we made a whole list of all the possible ideas, whatever seemed suitable for this building went on the list. We thought it was a crazy list because it was too big. We presented them with it and asked them to choose the AV parts they wanted, and they wanted it all. It’s like having a big box of candy! We then had to sit down and see what could be done and what we shouldn't do. I would say it between 80-90% of the list was actually carried out in the project.” 

As for the remaining 10-20%, Kaandorp is busy making plans for the rest, “It involved too much time, and needed more research and development, and we couldn't make it all in time.” 

In those early discussions with the client, what did it want the AV technology to achieve? “It's actually a little bit like a gym,” says Kaandorp. “If you have a nice gym people are happy, and if the AV works for them people are happy. If you give them a room where they can easily present their presentations, or they can impress a potential customer with a 360-degree movie, or do a videoconference with many endpoints, then they will be happy.” Special efforts were made by Sinus to make sure everything at The Flow was easy to use, especially as the people using the middle floors have the potential to change all the time. “All the AV has to be managed and setup in a way that you don’t have to push too many buttons to make things work, it’s got to be easy to use, and make people happy, it has to impress people and contribute to the whole feeling of a special building,” says Kaandorp.   

The Flow Houthavens - 360 Room ©Barwerd van der Plas 200605 - P01

AV-over-IT technology stretches across The Flow, with the bulk on the ground floor and top floor (rentable office space fills floors 1-4), including common areas, event spaces and meeting rooms including the flagship AV space, a war room with 360-degree projection. In one of the nicest design elements of the installation, visitors can even find AV inside the elevator. A Samsung 4K 98-in display has been fitted inside the elevator (“only just” admits Kaandorp), filling one entire wall. A sensor in the elevator tracks the movement of the lift and plays content as the inhabitants rise. Bespoke content includes an astronaut who pushes the lift buttons, with the screen taking the passenger further into space until the reach a space station.  

Once inside the (reception-less) lobby (the building has a community manager instead) you are immediately met by an impressive 8-metre x 5-metre Samsung LED wall, featuring 154 2.5mm pixel pitch tiles. The videowall even has the ability to be gesture-driven if the client desires. Content for the LED wall is driven by Dataton Watchout 4K media servers playing content 24/7, when the building is closed bright content illuminates the glass fronted building for the benefit of traffic and passers-by. The use of Watchout caused Sinus one issue to solve during the install says Kaandorp, “If you only use prepared content then it's easy to control, but if you give a control panel to a user and he/she wants to use their laptop then things start getting a little fishy, so you have to be careful and try and keep everything stable.” 

The Flow Houthavens - Lobby ©Barwerd van der Plas 200602 - P02

Four Samsung QM75F 4K UHD displays also hang in the lobby that users can use through narrowcasting. The screens also feature built-in MagicInfo digital signage software to power the content. Signage around The Flow is very much in keeping with the wellness ethos, alongside travel information it publishes details of the quality of the air inside and out, and energy data from the last month from the building. 

Floors 1-4 feature what feature Kaandorp describes as ‘standard AV’, touchscreens, room booking systems, touchscreens for climate/light control etc. Control throughout the building is managed and run using Crestron infrastructure.  

The dedicated war room (‘3sixty’) includes a Crestron conferencing camera, Dataton Watchout 4K media servers and content players, Optoma projectors, Sennheiser microphones, Quint Audio loudspeakers, and a Xilica Solaro DSP. A total of 16 Optoma ZH420UST ultra-short throw laser projectors power the video, with 10 specifically powering the 360-degree projection, with the other six used for touch-reactive picture-in-picture visuals. Crestron NVX350 network-scaling encoders and decoders transport video over the IP network both within the war room, as well to Samsung displays in the lobby. “We chose the ultra-short projectors because we wanted people to stand as close to wall as possible without creating a shadow,” said Kaandorp. “We had to make adjustments because of the tolerance of the lens, as there were strong sensitivities that affected the visual output. However, these were the right choice for what is a very innovative space.” 

The Flow Houthavens - Private Dining ©Barwerd van der Plas 200605 - P01

3sixty provided the biggest challenge of the entire install admits Kaandorp. “We had limitations including the size of the room (just 8x4-metres), the resolution of the projectors and the software. There is collaboration and war room software, but it doesn't work on the scale we wanted it to, we wanted to make the whole 360 degrees interactive and touchable, so you could put electronic versions of Post-It Notes on the screen. It proved too difficult; we don't know how to do that yet given the hardware and software options we had available in this room.” 

The room is hugely impressive yet Kaandorp, ever the perfectionist, expresses his frustration at not getting it 100% how he wanted it to work. “The idea was to interact with the whole content, and be able to save it, and recall it at any time. We have to find a touch sensor that can pick up such fine movements on such a large wall. We think only an overlay can do that right now, because a laser range-finder isn't precise enough. For the software we’d need we’d have to develop it ourselves because existing software doesn't work. We want the users to have the same experience in ‘3sixty’ as they do on a touchscreen, but that’s difficult to do with projection.” 

Elsewhere in the building Sinus has installed Barco Clickshare, Clear One ceiling microphones in meeting spaces. The Sinus team worked closely with both MVSA and the networking contractor early on. Sinus has provided a separate VLAN for most AV and control signals, with some interconnectivity to The Flow’s main network. Kaandorp describes how the marriage of AV and IT works at The Flow; “AV is seen as a container within the building, that’s why we have our own network. We have control panels for all our AV stuff, but we also need to give users access to the climate control, blinds and the lights, so we have to make a connection outside of the container over the network to the container where the lighting is. Whenever there's a crossover with containers, you have to go over the general network.” 

The Flow Houthavens - The Wolf ©Barwerd van der Plas 200605 - P13

The Flow’s emphasis on lifestyle and well-being means that audio is an essential part of the workspace experience. “The owner wanted to have a premium acoustics and premium electro-acoustics in it and wanted the maximum sound experience, so we had to put in a real high quality audio system to add to the experience.” 

Each rack includes a Xilica Solaro FR1 DSP with a 64x64 matrix, along with Quint Audio A1 class D amplifiers and Crestron CP3N control processors; the latter is also used for video signal control. The Quint Audio amplifiers, along with the Sonos streaming audio players, feed a variety of Quint Audio loudspeakers and subwoofers installed in various spaces throughout the building. 

The Xilica DSP is at the core of the audio, processing and managing analog and digital music sources coming in and out of the frames. In addition to the Quint Audio and Sonos systems – as well as Sennheiser wireless microphones - the Xilica DSP processes audio signals coming from other areas of the building’s IT infrastructure over Dante.  

Even in these Covid times, while work at The Flow has not quite returned to normal, the AV technology in the building is still being used to strong effect. Users are using the built-in software in the Crestron control system to book the war room for meetings and events, and every business renting space in The Flow has its own Teams address to manage videoconferences. Every business also has access to the complete booking schedule on Teams.  

Ever the perfectionist Kaandorp is only thinking about what comes next, rather than reflecting on a job that is clearly very well done on his part, “We see a lot of possibilities for improvement, but the client is super happy.”  

 The Flow Houthavens - Toilet, Lift & Trappenhuis ©Barwerd van der Plas 200605 - P03

KIT LIST 

Audio 

Audac CS85/W and CSS556/W loudspeakers 
Audinate stereo network converters 
Catchbox microphone 
Crown CDI4/300BL DSP 
Quint Audio H26, T6 and U15 loudspeakers, RSUB and S12 subwoofers  
Sennheiser EW100-945 G4 wireless mics, AD3700 directional antenna 
Xilica FR1 DSP, PC-2AESand PC-2L-O plug-in cards 

Video  

Aten USB video extenders 
Barco ClickShare CSE-200+ 
Blackmagic Web Presenter 
Chief mounts and brackets 
Crestron CP3N control processors, DM-RMC-4K scalers, HD-WP-4K-401-C 4K video processors, TSW-1060-B-S touchscreens 
Dataton Watchout 4K media servers 
Optoma ZH420UST UST projectors, ZH420UST UST projectors 
Samsung 65-in and 98-in displays, LH025IFHBAS/EN LED tiles, MagicInfo software