LONDON — The
British Broadcasting Corporation operates a number of radio and TV networks
throughout the U.K. The jewel in the BBC’s crown is Broadcasting House, once
described as “that elegant stone battleship sailing proudly down Regent Street”
— a reference to its striking architecture and imposing edifice. But time moves
|Exterior of the new Broadcasting House and new
Built in 1932 (a decade after the BBC was
founded), Broadcasting House was considered to be in dire need of repair by the
late 1990s. So the decision was made to close BH, and transform it into an
all-digital broadcast center for the 21st century.
Over the past 10 years, Broadcasting House has
undergone extensive redevelopment, seeing the addition of a major new extension
and new East Wing — now known as The Peel Wing, in memory of the late John
Peel, the highly-popular disc jockey.
The striking 860,000 square foot structure now
provides digital-capable facilities for network broadcast and global staff
working within the BBC’s TV, radio and World Service news and online services.
At the heart of the new building is a large,
open-plan newsroom and production area beneath an eight-story atrium, with
acres of glass as the dominant architectural feature. “We have restored our
original home and expanded it to create the largest live broadcast center
ever,” said former BBC Director-General Mark Thompson just after the new
building was opened.
The complex contains six TV studios and 140
acoustic spaces, as well as specially conceived zones for discussion and
But the numerous glass surfaces, which provide
an open, airy atmosphere with excellent sight lines between newsroom staff on
various floors, posed a number of acoustical challenges. The floor that houses
BBC World Service’s news preparation areas and on-air studios — recently
relocated from its long-time home in nearby Bush House — contains a variety of
different-sized production and air studios designed by London-based Munro
As Andy Munro, the firm’s founder and chief
designer, recalls, “We were 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 building’s complex infrastructure;
the construction equivalent, if you will, of ‘plug-and-play’ radio.”
open-plan BBC News Room within the eight-story atrium.
management expressed a strong preference for an “open, visually connected
structure that was originally described to me as ‘studios without walls,’” he
Associates was tasked with building a total of 30 studio areas in just six
months, he opted for a modular construction technique. “Several companies offer
interlocking, pod-type constructions but none of them could achieve the sound
insulation and complete transparency that, from the start, was the client
brief,” the seasoned designer continued.
“The only option
was a completely new design from the ground up. It was also decided to build
several prototypes and test every element of the structure before going into
In addition to
several standalone areas, a total of 18 larger facilities are built into
clusters of two and three studios with integral control systems that allow them
to function independently or interact with one another to accommodate different
Two main design obstacles immediately presented
themselves: sound insulation and acoustic conditioning. “These are difficult to
perfect at the best of times,” Munro acknowledged, “but we had to achieve
broadcast quality in a room with all glass walls, glass doors and without
physical support from the main building.”
His solution was to construct a rigid floor
platform with sufficient strength to support a steel frame that contains
sealed-glass panels for the surrounding walls. “Ceiling panels would be locked
into place by jacking them up to the underside of the frame beams, which
allowed access to the various pipes and cabling located in the main ceiling
|A look at one of the New Broadcasting House’s Studer-equipped on-air studios.
To avoid sound transmission into the
production spaces from the surrounding newsrooms and control centers, each
modular structure was floated on anti-vibration mounts.
For ventilation, a plenum system pulls cool air
from the ceiling and circulates it within the space. “The main building has the
chilled-beam ceiling with a water supply temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit
that mixes incoming fresh air and ambient air to give an inflow to the glass
boxes of around 65 degrees,” he said.
“We expect the rooms to work at 70 degrees Fahrenheit,
with a heat load of the equipment and bodies being 400–700 watts. Since that
means we have to pull in enough air to give the required cooling effect, our
fan speed can be varied accordingly. Fan noise is the limiting factor and we
designed our plenums to reduce this to NR25.”
Because most of the heat-producing equipment
racks are located outside each studio, Munro said, the heat load of each room
is no more than the same space occupied by the news teams. “So the net demand
on the building is unchanged. To install these studios with no gain in energy
demand was an achievement of which we are particularly proud.”
Associates-designed ‘sausages’ hanging to absorb sound and create an even,
To balance the
acoustic performance of each room and achieve “neutrality” without impacting
the available views into or out of the studio areas, Munro came up with an
innovative solution. “We opted to use trapezoid geometry,” he said, “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.”
Munro reports, is a “very even, diffused sound with a RT60 of less than 0.2
is handled by Dynaudio BM5A systems.
Enhanced flexibility was a design criterion for
the new space, Munro noted, “accomplished by transforming dark cellular offices
of the past into open plan workspaces with creative links nurtured by the close
proximity of production teams to studios.”
The current workflow for radio material produced
and aired throughout the new complex is completely digital, with content
capable of being repurposed for different listening audiences, including
broadcasting, podcasting and beyond.
purchased Studer OnAir 3000 Modulo digital control surfaces and supporting racks
for the radio areas, using various I/O and fader configurations that match the
complexity of the tasks being undertaken within a self-op facility, for
example, or in larger studios that are laid out with a separate control room
for engineer-assist programming.
In line with current BBC equipment policy, the
radio studios also include VCS Dira audio editing and automated playback
systems, plus Prism Sound SADiE and Avid Pro Tools digital audio workstations.
Various elements of the flexible VCS Dira automation, including newsroom and
on-air productions, are integrated using the MOS — Media Object Server —
Broadcasting House’s ‘stone battleship’ façade. The building was built in 1932,
a decade after the BBC’s founding.
Communications between production areas, BBC
master control and the central lines and circuits control desk is provided by
interlinked Delec Oratis intercom systems; talkback between control rooms and
studios is based on modular Studer-supplied panels. The dira! system is also
integrated with ENPS, the BBC’s main production tool for radio journalists, so
that audio as well as text items appear in ENPS-generated running orders that
are displayed in real time on each studio’s VCS playout terminal.
“We have cooperated with VCS [now SciSys] on a
number of projects in the past, and we fully expect this collaboration to
continue,” said Graham Boswell, Prism Sound’s sales director. “Both VCS and
SADiE are focused on productivity; this makes our product ranges such a natural
fit. We are also looking at ways in which we can meet future requirements for
broadcasters, [including] support for metadata propagation.”
According to Oliver Giese from VCS’ projects
department: “SADiE digital audio workstations and the LRX2 digital audio mixers
have long been the mainstay of the broadcast community, thanks to their editing
and location recording capabilities. SADiE is renowned for its speed and ease
of use, making it ideal for radio drama production and news, where the emphasis
is on a quick turnaround.”
All production and air studios feature a
programmable intelligent display system from U.K.-based systems integrator IPE
that uses conventional Ethernet LAN/WAN links to connect desktop IDS control touchscreens,
in addition to a number of large screen displays throughout the complex.
IP-based table lamps also provide status alerts, while other panels handle remote
infrared control for studio TVs via the touchscreens.
The BBC’s Radio 1 pop music channel operates
various studios and a live performance space — The Live Lounge — on the eighth
floor of the new building, in which other floors also house the World Service
and BBC News. IPE Systems equipped the new Munro-designed glass studios used by
World Service and the BBC’s domestic news output with five more traditionally
constructed general purpose studios and the six on-air studios shared between
Radio 1 and its digital twin 1Xtra and two Newsbeat studios.
Interestingly, to ensure sound compatibility
between recording channels and air studios throughout its radio services, and
to reduce the costs of spares inventory, the BBC uses only three types of vocal
microphone: Neumann KM 184 and AKG C414, plus the Neumann U 47 for Radio 1 DJs.
adequate sound isolation in the glass studios between the open plan newsroom
and the smaller production areas that lack a separate sound lock, Munro sourced
a novel door-closure system with dual-pane glass. “We specified cam locks that
pull the door firmly into the frame and provide a full acoustic seal. We also
specified longer door handles to provide easy access to handicapped staff and
guests in wheelchairs.” The design offers between 40 dB and 47 dB of sound
isolation, the designer said.
And to alert staff of the current status of each
production area, large tricolor LED panels are illuminated above each cubicle.
“Blue/white indicates that the area is powered,” Munro explained, “while amber
indicates that it is ready for transmission, and red that the studio is live to
air.” IDS DMX interfaces control the LED lighting.
Although Munro Acoustic’s “glass boxes,” as
they have become known by BBC staff, are used at Broadcasting House for
pre-records and on-air use, other applications are envisioned. “Their
overriding advantage is mobility,” Munro conceded. “Any one room can be moved
in a few days, and can be clustered together to form any type of audio-critical
room in less than a week. The [modular studio design] 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 like the new
Munro readily admits that “cost and performance
are always relative,” and his BBC designs were slightly more expensive than conventional
drywall construction. However, “given the flexibility and reuse possibilities
they are actually very cost-effective. In fact, we have received a lot of
interest in this new approach, with several broadcasters around the world
expressing interest in our design concept. When they compare the pro and cons
of our modular design vs. alternate solutions, many of them consider that our
approach matches both their immediate demands as well as offering enhanced
flexibility and future expansion.”
Mel Lambert is principal of Media&Marketing, a Los Angeles-based
consulting service. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to John Sullivan, strand manager
(audio), Major Projects Infrastructure, BBC, for providing access to the new
facilities and providing the images that accompany this article.