A colossal LED ceiling has converted the ground floor of a 15-storey building into a space that feels like an open-air environment. Zoe Mutter (AV Magazine) examines the unique application and the process of integrating a suitable display solution.
Completing a 180 sq metre LED installation can be testing enough, but a project reaches a new level of difficulty when the 540 display panels are hung 9.5 metres from the ground to create a ceiling of epic proportions. This was the challenge facing system integrator Sysco when it teamed up with UK distributor PSCo to install a 5mm pixel pitch LED ceiling above a passageway in Generali Real Estate’s first London development at 10 Fenchurch Avenue.
The client wanted to make a mark with the iconic building and architecture whilst integrating technology to create a connection between the passageway and the roof garden. “Walking through a covered passageway can be dark so the idea was to create a room inside the building that would convey a sense of peace and solace,” says Tina Paillet of Generali Real Estate.
Sysco was invited to meet architect Eric Parry to discuss how to approach the challenge of exposing the sky at the ground floor level of the new 15-storey tower. A complex audio visual solution was required and various designs were generated to envisage this innovative vision yet comply with structural constraints and building regulations.
One key design constraint was that planners had asked for the narrow medieval passageway to be retained. “We decided with the architects that it needed to be glorified and created a passageway funnelling in from Fenchurch Avenue or Fenchurch Street to a central space which was initially looking up to the roof garden through a small oculus. As the design went on we realised it would have a stronger effect if instead of having a small aperture up to the roof garden we put in an art installation in the form of an LED screen,” says Paillet.
“The concept was for the public to walk through the entrance and feel like they were in an open space, which initially it was thought could be achieved through projection,” says Hugo Roche, managing director, Sysco, who offered advice on the technologies that might help realise this.
Further research and investigation presented an LED ceiling as the preferred option due to its high brightness, design flexibility and capacity to be suspended face down from a height of 9.5m. Albeit with its own challenges, this solution was anticipated to work beautifully with the correct engineering.
“We were incorporating a very heavy, large structure into a building that was quite a long way through the design development process, and was already being built, so we had to work out how to integrate it into the existing structures,” says Roche.
Considering screen options
PSCo enjoyed a close working relationship with Sysco, from specifying the right LED product to assisting it with installation and commissioning.
“The product needed to offer a virtual window to the outside world combined with high image quality and high dynamic range to make the images come to life,” says Graham Pow, sales manager at distributor PSCo.
“We were confident the best product for the application was Absen’s N5 5mm pixel pitch LED display. It ticked all of the boxes visually, mechanically and in terms of price and performance.”
As the LED would be suspended facing down over the walkway, the product also had to be lightweight, reliable, able to operate when ceiling mounted and front serviceable to ensure ease of installation and maintenance in an environment where there would be wide temperature and humidity fluctuations.
Absen’s N series uses highly reliable components, a robust mechanical design and has been rigorously tested to meet European safety standards.
Design was examined from structural, mechanical and electrical perspectives as well as looking at the system as a whole, with the overriding challenge being how to suspend a large, LED screen weighing around four tonnes from a ceiling. Structural elements were designed into the project to ensure the screen was installed safely, level and true so the LED panels would not deviate or deflect.
To ensure the product was secure hanging at this height, PSCo added an additional 2,160 screws (four extra screws on each panel) to the LED wall to ensure the magnetic modules were secured in place.
As the team was producing a solution at height with little service area to gain access, they had to coordinate regarding where outlets for power and data were located so that after the installation any ongoing support and maintenance could be carried out without having to disassemble the LED screen. Heat would also be generated so the structure created to hold up the screen was surrounded by a ventilation piece.
“Finally, we looked at the overall system, the client requirements for delivering the live video, from the rooftop, as well as the pre-played video or pre-made artistic media that would be required,” says Graeme Bunyan, director of technology, Sysco. “This all hinged around selecting a simple solution that would require little client intervention.”
The architect and client’s vision was to provide a looking glass up to the roof garden. Using the screen to create a connection between the passageway and the garden was important in the brief and the client asked three local artist groups to suggest how they would achieve this.
“It didn’t have to feature footage from the roof garden,” says Paillet. “They were asked to simply imagine a connection between sky and earth, passageway and roof garden, above and below.”
Two Axis 4K resolution outdoor grade cameras installed on the roof are used to bring the live feed into the video piece - one camera pointing down capturing the garden and the other looking up towards the wisteria canopy. The cameras have in-dome housings, PTZ capabilities and are IP66 rated for increased field of view and are therefore programmable for different locations and movement.
The single 13m x 13m display is driven by a number of video sources, with the 4K resolution camera feeds being IP distributed over the building infrastructure and then decoded locally in the AV room, forming the two main image sources for the system. Alongside live video playback the artistic media is displayed on the screen, all scheduled with a simple control interface that allows the client to decide how often each component is displayed.
“Over and above that there is the general day to day operation and monitoring of the screens,” says Bunyan. “The environment is technically indoors but open to the elements so environmental monitoring solutions are used to keep an eye on temperature, humidity, and when appropriate, the control system will choose whether to turn the system on or off to make the most of the solution.
“Yes, there are installations in the world that use LED as a ceiling, we aren’t the first. But in the UK and Europe this is pretty much a milestone project in terms of the scale of image and although it’s technically more of a commercial installation it also has an art and museum feel because of the type of media the client is planning to playback through the system.”
Read the full story on AV Mag here
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