Rising 12 storeys above Melbourne’s busy Haymarket intersection, the University of Melbourne’s Business and Economics Building earned the nickname ‘The Spot’ soon after its completion in 2009 due to its striking façade. The distinctive grey ink spot patterning isn’t just an aesthetic whim; it’s part of a double glazing system that increases the amount of natural light inside the building while minimising glare and keeping the temperature down. The Spot is the first educational building in Australia to achieve a 5 Star Green Star rating, and reflects the University of Melbourne’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030. Designed by architect Metier 3, the building is packed with design innovations that see it consuming up to 46% less power than equivalent older buildings elsewhere on campus.
In keeping with the University of Melbourne’s goal to provide the best possible educational infrastructure for its staff and students, it recently embarked on a project to refurbish and expand three of The Spot’s collaborative learning spaces, merging single to double rooms and updating the AV backbone from analogue to digital. The Spot now boasts two spaces that can accommodate up to 100 students and one space capable of hosting 50. Built around a system of pods designed for 10, audio visual content can be shared across PC screens, wall-mounted flat panels or projection screens around the room, providing a huge amount of flexibility in classroom delivery and participation. Chosen to assist the University on the project were integrators Soundcorp and audio visual consultant WSP Group.
Duncan Johnston, Audio Visual Engineer with consultants WSP Group, had worked with the University closely before, helping deliver analogue-to-digital upgrades across the campus. In addition to rolling out a new system backbone for The Spot spaces, recycling also became part of the brief; “Part of the project was looking at the existing equipment and working out with the University what could be retained and what could be upgraded, “ Duncan explained. “Fundamentally, the project was to update to digital video and audio transport systems to replace the originally installed analogue equipment. The functionality of the new system is similar to the old one; each of the pods have two PCs the students can use. The option now is to share either of those PCs to the local monitor, flat panels or projection screens, or to have the teaching material presented on the flat panels and other devices at the teacher’s discretion.”
Powering the powerful video and audio switching needed for such a large system are Extron XTP Crosspoint Modular Digital Matrix Switchers. Crosspoint 3200s are installed in the larger rooms, with a Crosspoint 1600 in the smaller space. Michael D’Aprano, Senior Technical Specialist in the Learning Space Support Team at the University of Melbourne, worked with Duncan on the AV specifications to ensure the University was getting what it needed; “We go through the tender documentation, make sure it aligns with our standards, and make recommendations,” offered Michael. “We want to make sure the university gets value for money and we get a system we can work with going forward. This is the first time we’d used Extron XTP in a collaborative space as opposed to a lecture theatre.” Sam Moore, Sales Manager at Soundcorp, knew they’d made the right decision “Extron XTP ticks all the boxes,” he agreed. “It’s simple to install, simple to use, and very versatile.”
While the University responsibly repurposed some existing equipment including power amplifiers, ceiling speakers, and document cameras, the upgrade required new audio processing from Biamp, tabletop microphones from Shure, wireless microphones from Sennheiser, flat panel displays and projectors from Sony and AV control processing from AMX. Each room now includes a teacher’s lectern with touch panel AV system control, local inputs, document camera and a combo DVD/VCR, plus wired and wireless microphone options. The student pods, in addition to two PCs, each have HDMI, DVI and VGA laptop connectivity and a simple AV system control keypad. Each room includes four large projection screens, custom powder coated through Soundcorp. All AV equipment is monitored, logged and maintained remotely through AMX’s Resource Management Suite.
The 10 new Sony VPL-FHZ55 data projectors installed in The Spot are part of an ongoing upgrade process at the University to replace traditional discharge lamp projectors with laser models. “When projectors are workhorses, laser offers significant advantages,” expanded Duncan Johnston. “Traditional discharge projectors run for a minute or so after shutdown so the lamp can cool down, and if the power gets cut, the lamps can be damaged. Laser can be turned straight off. This is important in Universities as one teacher will switch off the system, but another teacher will walk in straight away and have to wait for the cool-down period before they can switch back on.” Michael D’Aprano agrees; “We’ve been installing laser projectors for the last 12 months. They really suit our needs, as we don’t have to get a ladder out and change a globe every 3000 hours. The laser projectors are rated for 20,000 hours. Our replacement cycle for lamped projectors is three years, but installing laser projectors allows us to extend that out to probably six or seven years.”
As with all Universities, the biggest challenge to installing a successful digital collaboration system wasn’t technology, but time. Peter Nanscawen works in Project Management for the University of Melbourne and is in charge of overseeing seasonal works for AV installations. “These projects have big dependencies and tight constraints,” he illustrated. “These sorts of works need to get done over semester breaks, often working nights to get them done.” This is why the University turned to Soundcorp to deliver the project. “I’ve dealt with Soundcorp a number of times over a number of installations and I was confident they’d be the ones to pull it all together,” said Peter. “They’ll do whatever they can to make sure a project is delivered on time, to quality and on budget.”
“We’d done a similar project for the University of Melbourne earlier in the year,” Soundcorp’s Sam Moore added. “It was stressed to us that we needed to get this project turned around in a tight timeframe due to teaching times and the availability of the spaces. We did two weeks’ worth of night works between 8 PM and 6 AM, roughing in, going into ceilings and under floors. We worked closely with the University’s Information and Technology Services staff to make sure they imaged the PCs correctly to feed the right video resolution and audio output into the Extron systems. Our project manager Nash Summers and AMX programmer Martin Smith spent a lot of time as liasons.”
Hitting The Spot
“Soundcorp did a great job delivering the project,” praised WSP’s Duncan Johnston. “It was a good collaborative process between the University, Soundcorp and ourselves. All in all there’s been a lot of different stakeholders involved and it’s been a good project. In trying to meet a tight deadline, even the manufacturers involved were proactive in procuring equipment early for us.”
“Soundcorp are always willing to work to our guidelines,” said Michael D’Aprano. “They keep the communication constant and are easy to work with. If we’ve got things we want changed, they really collaborate with us. Now that the spaces have been up and running and people have been teaching, we’ve had some feedback on the layout and user interface. With Soundcorp’s help, we’ll be going back over the summer period and making it even better.”
Project: University of Melbourne Faculty of Business and Economics, Rooms 6.13, 5.13 and 5.14
Value: AUD $500,000+
Timeframe: Six weeks from approval to handover
Consultant: WSP Group
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