|by Alan Hardiman, Photos by Roy Timm
Put 165 loudspeakers and 30 microphones
into a well 70' in diameter and
four storeys high, top it off with a
domed ceiling, and then make it all
work. While this might sound like
some sort of twisted penance meted
out by the demons from audio hell,
in reality it was the central challenge
facing Novita Techne Ltd. and Westbury National Show
Systems Ltd. in refitting the City
of Mississauga, ON’s council
chambers with a new, stateof-
the-art conferencing and
The structure itself was a
given. Mississauga’s City Hall was completed in 1987 by
Toronto firm Jones and Kirkland
Architects, who had beat
out 245 other submissions in
an international design competition
for this iconic building.
One of the central features is
its council chambers, a large
round room designed in a neoclassical
style – including a
domed ceiling. It might easily be
mistaken, however, for a large,
In 2006, the City of Mississauga
decided to upgrade the 20-
year-old A/V system in the Council
Chambers as part of an overall building
renovation. And while they were at
it, the retrofit afforded an opportunity to
build in significant additional capability,
including a new digital conference system
capable of allowing participants to address
council, hear each other talk, and vote; a
comprehensive visual projection system; and
a full-featured A/V streaming system for broadcast,
web cast, and archival purposes.
The city engaged Novita’s A/V multimedia
consulting division to design and specify appropriate
systems. Novita’s team, consisting of Project Lead and
Senior A/V Designer Christian Bechard, Partner-in-Charge
David Jolliffe, and Senior Designer Jim Boutilier, tackled
the project, working closely with the City of Mississauga’s A/V
systems specialist, Tony Biagi, to ensure the systems were well
suited to the city’s requirements.
Westbury National Show Systems won the bid for the contract.
Project Manager for Westbury, Doug Wildeboer, and Westbury’s installation team have since successfully completed
the installation of the new systems,
which were fully commissioned in
January of 2007.
In the renovated chambers,
the mayor and 12 councilors sit at a
horseshoe-shaped desk on a dais
at the front of the room. Facing
them is a long straight desk
that can accommodate eight
staff members as required.
Directly below and in front of
the mayor’s seat is the clerk’s
desk, with four seats. At the
rear of the room, eight rows
of pews provide seating for
some 200 observers, raked
up bleacher-style at about a
30-degree angle. Just above
and behind this public seating
area, but still out in the
open, sits the A/V cockpit,
the nerve centre of the operation.
An enclosed rack room
is behind the cockpit.
The business of City Council is
facilitated by a DCS 6000 Digital
Conference System from Danish
Interpretation Systems (DIS). Twelve
DM 6560F delegate stations for the
councilors and one CM 6560F chairman
station (with delegate-off button)
for the mayor are flush mounted into 8"
x 3" cutouts in the curved desk at each
position. Delegate stations are similarly
provided for the eight positions at the
staff desk and four positions at the
These stations are fully digital
units, each with a loudspeaker, a “pushto-
talk/request” button, and a gooseneck
microphone equipped with a powerful red
LED “active/non-active” light indication
formed as a ring around the microphone.
The units support a three button voting facility
– Yes, Abstain, and No – and a chipcard reader for
identifying the user to the system. The loudspeaker
is automatically switched off when the microphone is activated. The system also supports simultaneous interpretation, but this is implemented in the Mississauga installation.
The A/V technician functions as system administrator and controls all
aspects of the DIS system. With the included software package, the clerk can
select multiple user modes including an “automatic” mode, which allows up
to eight participants to speak at once, and a “manual” mode requiring the
councilors to request to speak, and stay in cue until it is their turn.
The chipcard is about the size of a credit card, and features a programmable
chip that can be coded with a serial number assigned to a delegate
with associated permissions that are called up from the DIS system’s database
and enabled. The database can be modified as people come and go,
and is managed by the system administrator. The permissions, along with the
selection of automatic or manual mode, determine such things as whether
the microphone turns on immediately at the touch of the Talk button (in the
case of the chairman), or goes into a queue or “request-to-speak” list, turning
on only when it’s that delegate’s turn to speak. The permissions also
determine whether a delegate may vote, and generally allow the chairman to
moderate a discussion and maintain a sense of order to the proceedings.
The system administrator has several sets of cards for the different
kinds of meetings that are held in the facility, and each set of cards can be
customized with the names and titles of the participants, their voting rights,
and other permissions.
“When you tell someone what they can have control over – that they
can moderate the discussion in terms of the order of who talks next, shift the
order of talkers, or display voting results – they’re impressed,” says Wildeboer.
“The system is very intuitive to users. We are very impressed with the
DIS system’s capabilities. Its GUIs can be easily customized and configured
to the client’s needs and procedures. The users have been impressed with
how easy it is to use.”
BeamWare Configuration File for MCC showing application of three separate 10-degree beams aimed to create consistent SPL in gallery seating with minimal energy directed towards walls and domed ceiling.
A/V Cockpit equipment in pullout rack rails.
|Sound Reinforcement System
A sound reinforcement system was required to amplify spoken word and
program audio from stereo sources, such as a DVD player. Due to the echo
and sound focusing problems presented by the domed ceiling within the
Council Chambers, Novita
specified the Renkus Heinz ICONYX digitally
steerable array systems
to direct the sound
towards the audience but not into the
ceiling. Westbury programmed the digital
processors within the speakers to properly
aim the beams and prevent potential
feedback. The ICONXY
systems are visually
unobtrusive, their white paint enabling
them almost to disappear when mounted
between the white columns of the chambers.
The modular ICONYX
combine up to four IC-8
enclosures and is
unique in that each of the eight 4" drivers
in a single enclosure receives an individually
filtered and delayed signal, enabling
the array to produce a specified vertical
beam and steering angle. The control software,
Beamware, also permits adjustment
of the apparent acoustic centres without
physically moving the array itself in order to
improve localization of the sound source.
“The ICONYX software lets you map
the position of the speaker in the room, the
position and slope of the seating areas, and
the distance from the speaker to the last
explains. “You can define
all those parameters and specify how many
beams you want to emanate from the
ICONYX line array, the level and down angle
of each beam, and the acoustic centre of
that beam within the column. It’s really
quite astounding to be able to control that.
So if you have multiple seating areas, such
as a ground floor and a balcony, you can
create beams that go specifically to those
areas and not the areas in between, which is unique and quite unlike a standard loudspeaker. The software will show
you the resulting frequency response and SPL as well".
“We got in there with the JBL Smaart system to adjust the delays and
EQ curves and so forth. The existing pew-back loudspeakers were replaced
with 104 Renkus Heinz SSL 4-2 coaxial 4" transducers which, fortunately,
are the exact same drivers as in the IC-8s and a sonic match to the main
system. For the people in the pews, the system now gives the sense that the
sound is coming from the front of the room and not from the loudspeaker
on the back of the pew in front of them. It doesn’t seem at all like the sound
is coming from down at their shins, even though that’s the location of the
pew-back loudspeaker. The system keeps the sound image coming from the
front, but the pew-back loudspeakers give you the intelligibility necessary to
keep it clear,”
Novita’s Senior A/V Designer Christian Bechard
says, “The Council
Chambers’ ceiling is dome-shaped, and as a result the room has a serious
flutter echo problem – repeated echoes that are experienced in rapid
succession. We had worked with ICONYX in several other venues and had
been impressed with their steerability, in other words, their ability to aim the
audio exactly where you want it. In this case we needed to be able to avoid
getting sound energy up into the ceiling, so we chose the ICONYX to steer
the sound directly to the audience without any splashing into the ceiling.”
additional attribute of the line arrays is that the delay used to steer the beam
significantly reduces feedback from open mics directly in front of them.
A pair of Tannoy 110SR
active subwoofers was specified to add
warmth to the sound reinforcement system. They were built into the staff
table millwork, but to avoid unwanted vibrations the subwoofer enclosures
were isolated from the table millwork.
In addition to the DIS
microphones in the digital conference system,
the sound system includes three Shure MX-412
podium microphones for
the public lecterns along with two Shure SLX
Wireless microphones to afford
freedom of movement for people making presentations. A microphone on a
mobile podium is used for non-council functions and can be plugged into
the system at any one of several wall plates located around the chambers.
Line level media feeds are also available via wall plates located near the
A/V cockpit and along the staff table millwork. A ClearOne AP 400
hybrid is used to broadcast the meetings
out to a conference bridge number for
people to listen to the proceedings.
A Phonic Ear StarSound 400 Infrared
Assistive Listening System
to help those with hearing difficulties, as
required by the Ontario Building Code.
Induction loops were included with each
receiver for use with hearing aids.
Paul Forbes, Westbury National Systems; Doug Wildeboer, Head Integrater; Bill Coons, Director, Contact Distribution; Gary Plavin, President, Projection Design USA; Tony Biagi, City of Mississauga A/V Systems Specialist.
No project of this magnitude is completed without one
or more fundamental obstacles. In this case, the major
obstacle lay in the nature of the base building itself.
“We were very limited when it came to installing new
conduits,” says Bechard. “The entire floor sits on a
concrete pedestal. At many of our A/V equipment locations,
the electricians had three or four feet of concrete
to core through to be able to get a conduit through
to the other side. There was concrete everywhere,
we thought the public podium was a raised wooden
platform, but once they broke it apart, we could see
that it was also completely made of concrete, too. As a
result we had to make do with far fewer conduits than
we originally planned for and had to get really creative
with regard to our signal distribution.”
Wildeboer adds, “There’s only so many places the
electricians could core holes through the floor in order
to get conduit up into the millwork. With the parking
garage directly below the council chambers, there’s
a large amount of structural concrete supporting this
place. The room has a circle of structural columns just
inside the walls, and concrete risers for the pews, so
trying to work around the available paths was challenging
for the electricians. In order to keep costs
down, we did a lot of wiring with a twisted pair Cat
5E cable. We worked very closely with facility designer
Alan Dalquen of Bullock Associates to design the millwork
that would contain the assorted A/V equipment.
The councilors’ desks, podium, and A/V cockpit were
carefully designed to neatly fit and conceal the many
A/V components and associated wiring. But the original completion date for
the new installation was about 30 days after we came onto the project! They
wanted to be turned on and using the system within 30 days,” Wildeboer recalls.
“The timeline was way too short for a project of this magnitude,” Biagi explains. “Because it was a renovation project, there were a lot of surprises
when walls were being ripped out. Had it been new construction, I would
have gone with rear projection, for example, instead of cross projection. The
conduits that were needed couldn’t be accommodated as everyone initially
thought. So if the conduit can’t be put in, then the millwork has to wait, and if
the millwork’s not in then we have to wait, and you get a trickle down effect.
The original deadline was Inaugural Council, which was Dec. 4, 2006. For
that deadline, the system was up to its bare minimum, which was mics on.
And that’s all they needed for that initial deadline, so we were lucky!”
Recommendations And Wrap-Up
This project is unique in the integration of its many facets. “It’s more than
the sum of its parts, which is a bunch of great gear – it’s making all that
great gear work harmoniously together with a simple user interface. That’s
where customization comes in,” Wildeboer says. “Because of the building’s
unique architecture, a single clap from the podium in the centre of the room
is repeatedly echoed back.* This challenging environment is what drove
the use of every design trick available: steerable Renkus Heinz line arrays
to focus the acoustic energy where needed, matching Renkus Heinz pewback
loudspeakers to help add vocal clarity where needed without placing
excess acoustic energy into the room, DIS delegate stations each with its
own loudspeaker to ensure that the councilors and public can hear the other
participants. The careful use of level, delay, and EQ has provided an intelligible
system in a very difficult room. And the cautious use of the subwoofers
enables the room to be used for full-range audio when playing back video
programs and music.”
“We worked closely with the clients, who told us how they like to
control the room and how meetings are run and what are the things that
make it work for them. Tony Biagi had very clear ideas of how he wanted it
to work, and we were able to work closely with him and hit the mark in the
end. He worked very closely with Novita in the early stages to communicate
what he was looking for, and Novita did a great job integrating that into a
design and equipment list, which works well with the difficult acoustics of
the room, and providing the video backbone,” Wildeboer says.
What can other consultants and contractors learn from this experience?
“Learn to ask the right questions of your client.” Biagi suggests – and being
on the client side of this project, he should know. “An educated client is one of
the best things to have. Push that education on them in terms of knowing what
they should be asking – for example, dial-in ability or full matrix ability? Ask
the questions for your client. Don’t just walk in and say, ‘What do you want?’
Try to push them to the edge, don’t limit them. Get them future-ready.”
Bechard notes that “the most important thing when designing a system
is to keep the end user in mind. It is our firm belief that if we really listen to
the users, the systems will meet their needs and skill levels, and they will be
happy. When we have a user as technically inclined as Tony Biagi, the design
process becomes very collaborative, and the systems can be more complex.
Regardless of how complex the system becomes, it must still be easy to use,
and we felt strongly that Doug and Westbury went out of their way to make
a very complex system as user-friendly as possible. For this project we were
very happy with the results and felt comfortable that the city of Mississauga
ended up with the options and the control over the system it needed.”
The last word goes to the client. “It’s absolutely incredible,” Biagi says.
“I’ve seen some other government facilities in regions and cities, but I think
we have the best council chambers in Canada right here in Mississauga.”