Modular Studio Design for the BBC New Broadcasting House Project


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In an uncertain World with constantly changing demands and technical formats it is very difficult to plan and build a large facility that will be absolutely fit for purpose when it is finished. This was especially true of the BBC when it considered the needs of New Broadcasting House.
Munro Acoustics was given the task of developing a completely modular studio format that could be positioned anywhere in a standard office environment without placing demands on the infrastructure of the building- the construction equivalent of plug and play. There was also a strong preference for an open, visually connected structure that was originally described to me as 'studios without walls'.
The use of modular construction techniques was essential as we were tasked with building 30 studios in six months, more than one every five working days! There are several companies making interlocking, pod type constructions but none of them could achieve the sound insulation and complete transparency that was the client brief from the start. The only option was a completely new design from the ground up. The project was too important to fail as the BBC were committed to move the World Service into the new building and vacate Bush House in early 2012. It was decided to build several prototypes and test every element of the structure before going into full production.
There were two main obstacles to overcome and these are common to all studio projects, namely sound insulation and acoustic conditioning. These are difficult to perfect at the best of times but we had to achieve broadcast quality in a room with all glass walls, glass doors and without physically support from the main building. The solution was to build a rigid floor platform with enough strength to support a steel frame that would then allow sealed glass panels to be dropped into place. Ceiling panels would be locked into place by jacking them up to the underside of the frame beams. This would allow access to the mass of pipes and cabling in the main ceiling voids The entire structure had to be floated on antivibration mounts in order to avoid sound transmission from the surrounding news rooms and control centres.
In order to maintain good ventilation Munro Acoustics designed an innovative plenum system that sucks in cool air from the chilled beam ceiling and blows it back where it came from. The heat load of each room is no more than the same space occupied by the news teams and so the net demand on the building is unchanged. To install all those studios with no gain in energy demand is an achievement of which we are particularly proud and we confounded a few sceptics along the way.
That left the acoustic performance of each room to balance and achieve neutrality without impairing any of views in or out. This was achieved by using a trapezoid geometry whereby all the internal reflections are guided to a single row of hanging 'sausages' that have very high absorption. They also hang inside the room and so absorb reflections back from the glass as well as the initial impact. The result is a very even, diffused sound with a reverberation time of less than 0.2 seconds.
Although the glass boxes, as they have become known, are used in this case for broadcast there are many other applications to which they can be applied. Their overriding advantage is mobility in that any one room can be moved in a few days and they can be clustered together to form any type of audio critical room in less than a week. They can turn any standard office place into a creative production environment without blocking light or altering the aesthetic design of a high specification atrium space.
Cost and performance are always relative and these designs are slightly more expensive than conventional plasterboard construction but given the flexibility and reuse possibilities they are actually very cost effective.
Interest in the BBC project has been immense with broadcasters from around the World expressing interest in the concept. When they compare the pro and cons most agree it is a great new way to work and one that matches the demands for flexibility and future expansion.

Tags: iss061 | acoustic | munro acoustics | bbc new broadcasting house | N/A
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