The pursuit of knowledge at Rhodes House

A multi-million redevelopment of Rhodes House in Oxford blends historical grandeur with cutting-edge technology. Paul Milligan reports.

Rhodes House in Oxford, named after the 19th century politician and diamond tycoon Cecil Rhodes, has stood for nearly 100 years on the values he wanted to promote; international understanding, leadership and the pursuit of knowledge. Rhodes, who died in 1902, left The Rhodes Trust as his legacy, an educational charity whose principal responsibility is to fund the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. This award, which remains the oldest international graduate scholarship scheme in the world, supports exceptional students from all backgrounds to study at Oxford University.

The House has played host to speeches and lectures from Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein and former Rhodes Scholar beneficiary Bill Clinton, and was built in 1928 and features a library, meeting rooms, a lecture hall and expansive gardens. Plans were approved in 2020 to transform the Grade II listed building in a £37m (€43m) redevelopment including the restoration of architecture and a complete renovation of the building’s basement to create several new spaces.

Alongside its function as a central hub for The Trust, Rhodes House needed to become a modern, hybrid venue, prepared for a range of prestigious global events. Working closely with the client, key stakeholders and architects early on to establish the project requirements, AV consultant Hewshott International was appointed to take the lead on the building’s AV plans, and GVAV were successful in the subsequent tendering process for supply and installation of AV.

What was the original client brief for the project? The main brief was flexibility, scalability and to be as sympathetic to the old listed building as possible says Darren Gatenby, senior technology consultant, Hewshott. "It was also to make as much of the AV invisible, therefore we centralised the main bulk of equipment and relied on the AVoIP system to do the leg work." Hewshott's involvement was to gather requirements and make the requirements and vision a reality. "Fortunately we have had a lot of time to work with the client and the architects to achieve the final product and during the journey the specification of hardware changed as technology was updated. Like active learning collaborative technology for example, many updates were developed in the detailed design process that gave us the opportunity to experiment," adds Gatenby.


Stuart Harris, technical sales manager, GVAV breaks down how the design and installation work was split between Hewshott and GVAV. "After the tender we came along and took on all of the AV elements from the design concepts and built them out as a fully-fledged and operational system. Where we did have a lot of influence was over how the network deployment was done, and the Q-Sys programming.” Once visitors walk through the grand entrance they will find the ground floor home to The McCall MacBain (formerly Milner) Hall, the largest of the floor’s function rooms. The audio-only redevelopments here are subtle but complementary to the building’s interior aesthetic of tall windows, oak floors, and marble fireplaces. Versatile layout options allow the McCall MacBain Hall to accommodate up to 200 people, as it serves as a function room for large-scale events and presentations.

As such, the equipment installed needed to be adaptable to different purposes, with new users able to walk into the space and begin using the equipment quickly. In the McCall MacBain Hall, as well as the smaller Beit and Atlantic function rooms, slim line-array Yamaha Dante loudspeakers are discreetly installed, providing audio whilst respecting the original aesthetic with an unobtrusive design. These speakers are linked to Shure lapel mics, handheld mics, which facilitate portability and allow the presenter to be heard in each different space. An imposing new marble spiral staircase leads down to an airy concourse in the renovated basement level which has been hollowed out to create several new modern facilities. The foyer is home to small breakout meeting spaces and features two multi-purpose 55-in NEC displays fitted with Crestron Saros soundbars to deliver audio.

When not showing a running slideshow of Rhodes Trust media, the screens are set up to display a live feed from the adjacent Convening Hall, allowing those outside to see and hear a conference whilst networking or socialising. With a capacity of up to 300 people, the 253 sq m Convening Hall is a conferencing suite that can be sub-divided into three smaller rooms for flexibility. The centrepiece of this space are two Samsung LED walls, one measuring 6x3-metres, which acts as the main presenting display for the room. A smaller 3x3-metre LED wall is fitted at the east end of the room. In front of the large LED wall is a bespoke height adjustable Avenue Furniture lectern matching the room’s aesthetic, featuring a 24-in Litemax LCD display bar. This can be configured to show the logo and branding of whoever is using the space. Integrated into the top of the lectern is a 19-in Beetronics comfort monitor, which has an anti-reflective matte display and 178-degree viewing angles, maximising the comfort for the presenter.

As well as the two LED videowalls, the room has three 98-in 4K NEC Multisync C981Q displays. Yamaha VXL line array speakers are discreetly installed either side of the displays, which are built-in flush to the wood panelled walls. The room’s screens, supported by Chief mounting brackets, are each accompanied by a Q-Sys control panel, providing full control for each display. Presenters can show a variety of content on each display from a range of sources, allowing them to walk into the space with their own device and start presenting immediately. Compatibility with Q-Sys meant the WolfVision Cynap Pro and Core Pro models were chosen to add another distribution dimension, allowing users to cast content to the displays wirelessly.

The Q-Sys control panels are the front end component of a comprehensive AVoIP system. In the planning stage, Hewshott was keen to work with Q-Sys products to curate a modern, flexible and scalable AV system for the Convening Hall. A total of 14 Q-Sys NV-32-H units are deployed across the system acting as encoders and decoders, transforming signals from inputs for the display network. Q-Sys amplifiers, ceiling speakers, PTZ cameras and Core DSPs integrate to create a control system that requires minimal training for end users. The front-end gives full control with a drag and drop design. For Rhodes House’s AV team, the flexibility of the system opens up the potential to change or make additions to the kit in-house. Amongst the devices that make up the Q-Sys ecosystem within the Convening Hall, seven PTZ IP cameras are integrated around the room with tracking capabilities to capture video footage in full HD. Much like many of the speakers, these cameras are unobtrusively fitted into the room’s wooden surround, offering full video coverage that can then be shown back on the displays in the room, the outside foyer, or beamed out to an external audience.

Being able to capture and transmit video from the room was an important initial project requirement set out by the client. If attendees were to look up at any time, they probably wouldn’t see nine Shure MXA710 line array microphones, hidden almost completely within the roof design. Coordination between the architects, GVAV and Hewshott was essential during the planning and installation of this ceiling equipment, as well as getting the physics and location right. Back on the ground, portable Shure handheld and lapel mics allow speakers to be heard throughout the space and on broadcast. Outside the main building, a glazed pavilion has been built on the west side of the grounds, offering views across Rhodes House’s gardens. Much like the Convening Hall, the 50-seat Garden Pavilion is fitted with a Q-Sys AVoIP system. Two NV-32-H units are again deployed as encoders and decoders, with Q-Sys amplifier and PTZ cameras also integrated. The main display for the venue is a Chief-mounted 86-in NEC C861Q LFD which is built into custom wooden housing that can be opened or closed depending on the needs of the event.

Content to the display can be fed by several different inputs, all controlled by a Q-Sys control panel mounted on the adjacent wall. The WolfVision Cynap Core Pro allows end users to wirelessly show content from their own device and join meetings quickly. Audio input for the space comes from Shure portable mics and a gooseneck mic integrated with the lectern, while Yamaha speakers at the front of the building provide the output. Pushing the envelope of what AVoIP can deliver was a clear statement of intent from the Rhodes House renovation. And it’s no more evident in the House’s brand new XR Lab, which enables fellows and scholars to experiment with this emerging technology and notions of the metaverse. Laced with immersive tech, this futuristic collaborative space is in direct contrast with the traditionally-styled Oxford function rooms upstairs.

Harris explains the process behind this room, “We worked with Lumina technologies to design the concept of it, and we came up with the technology to work in the space. It's got a surround sound system in there, and you can stream the video from the headsets to the displays in the room. It's got DMX controlled lighting so you can feel immersed in the environments.” The room’s peripherals run over an AVoIP system, facilitating content sharing and futureproofed scalability. New inputs and outputs can be integrated as required, eliminating the need for full regenerations of the AV infrastructure. Q-Sys NV-32-H units act as decoders and encoders, whilst the Q-Sys touch panel gives end users control of the system’s peripherals. Audio on the network is driven by Q-Sys SPA multichannel amps, an Extron surround sound processor and a total of eight Monitor Audio wall speakers. Mounted on a Heckler AV cart, a DTEN D7X all-in-one unit is integrated in the Lab, adding video conferencing capability at the end users’ disposal.

The D7X’s 4K wide-angle camera and 15 mic array help connect the XR Lab to the outside world via Teams, while USB-C and wireless options allow BYOD capability. Around the building, digital signage has been installed to display content and wayfinding information with extra BYOD connectivity options courtesy of the WolfVision Cynap Pure and audio from Yamaha speakers. Many of Rhodes House’s meeting rooms have also been given a tech upgrade where Logitech Zoom rooms have been installed for smaller in-person or hybrid gatherings. Meeting spaces can be reserved and managed remotely thanks to a Joan room booking system, integrating with Rhodes House’s chosen calendar provider.

Backlit Joan 6 Pro panels are fitted outside each bookable space, displaying room availability and upcoming meeting information in real-time. The e-paper wireless displays were chosen for room management as it is a sustainable product. Audio throughout Rhodes House is run via Dante and AES67, “Because we are using a single (Q-Sys) Core 510i, it is routing all the Dante and AES67 traffic throughout the building, all of the areas are connected by one processor. We can send audio anywhere we want to and get it from anywhere we want, to any location. It gives us huge amounts of flexibility,” says Harris. The biggest challenges on the project were the lead times of some of the equipment says Gatenby. "The centralised section of the convening hall has a very specific ceiling microphone, and the ceiling was coordinated to accommodate the microphone. The manufacturer stopped production of the microphones during Covid, however due to demand the manufacturing process started up again and luckily the microphones were readily available again after quite a wait."

The biggest challenge for GVAV was putting together the network configuration adds Harris. The entire Q-Sys system sits on the client’s corporate LAN. “We did do a lot of preliminary design work with Hewshott and the network consultant they brought in, and also with the on-site network team. Even with all of that planning in place, and all of the information readily available, we still had issues with video traffic flooding the network when we first went in there, we had control issues, we had Dante issues. But by working with the IT team on-site we were able to change a lot of the switch conflicts live as we were testing.” Maybe the biggest achievement is filling all the rooms with modern AV, capable of being extended and added to long into the future, whilst blending in with the architecture and surroundings. “It's one of those systems where the AV is invisible, that’s very intentional. First you see the room, you see the space, when you look a little bit closer, you will notice there is an LED wall on one side for example,” explains Harris. Working with one goal in mind, it's clear Hewshott and GVAV have delivered an environment worthy of some of the world’s brightest and best students.



Audinate ADP-DAO-AU-0x2 Dante AVIO adaptors  
Monitor Audio wall speakers 
QSC AD-C6T ceiling speakers, CX-Q 4K8 and CXQ4K8 and MP-A40V network amplifiers  
Sennheiser MobileConnect stations 
Shure MXW2/SM58 handheld mics, WL185 lapel mics, MXA710B-4FT array mics, MXA710W-4FT array mics, MXA910 ceiling mics, MX415LP/C gooseneck mics 
Yamaha VXL1B 24, VXL1B 16, VXL1B16P line array speakers 


Avenue Conference lectern 
Beetronics 19-in monitor 
Chief Fusion display mounts 
DTEN D7X all-in-one unit 
Heckler AV cart 
Joan 6 Pro room booking panels 
Litemax 2405 24-in stretch display 
Logitech Scribe camera, Rally Bar, Tap meeting room controller 
QSC NV-32-H Q-Sys Core processors, 20X60 PTZ cameras, Q-Sys Core 510i DSPs, TSC 116W-BK G2 touchscreen controllers 
Sharp/NEC, M551 55-in, C751Q 75-in, C861Q 86-in, C981Q 98-in LFD 
Samsung SBB-SNOWJMU LED tiles, LED screen processors 
Tripleplay TPS-PLAY3R-SP1 4K signage players  
Wolfvision Cynap Core Pro presentation system  

Article Categories

Most Viewed