Built in 1928 as a memorial to British colonialist and mining magnate, Cecil Rhodes, Rhodes House in Oxford was originally dedicated to supporting education and administered under a trust.
Today the magnificent mansion, and opulent courtyard gardens continues to operate under the Trust, but its three main event spaces host a wide range of functions, ranging from weddings and presentations to fashion shows and product launches.
The main Milner Hall will accommodate 200 in a lecture theatre configuration, but with its stone walls, barrel vaulted ceiling, two imposing black marble fireplaces and a raised bay with stone mullioned windows, delivering speech through hired-in PA systems was never straightforward for the facility’s preferred technical contractors, City AV, as the events were so diverse.
It therefore made logical sense for CAV’s MD Peter Gunn, and Rhodes House Business Development Manager Isabelle Barber, to agree to a permanently installed PA system — sufficiently flexible to handle all events.
While CAV has been servicing the facility for some 15 years, over the past decade he has been a regular customer of Sound Technology Ltd and has frequently turned to the Harman Pro catalogue for his solutions. He sensed that while a JBL Constant Beamwidth steerable line array column such as the CBT50LA would provide the best solution for Milner Hall, he could also place the two annex rooms, the Jameson Room and Beit Room on a BSS Soundweb BLU-100 DSP network so they could be used as overspills or breakout areas, with the sound from the main space relayed through a series of four JBL Control 25 loudspeakers in each. At the same time he made sure that each room also had its own mic plug-in points and MP3 inputs.
Assistance was also at hand in the form of Hugo Burnard from Sound Technology’s Project Support Team, who conducted a site visit and then helped with designing an EASE model, while CAV’s Matt McDonald was responsible for programming the Soundweb system presets, so that this became an intuitive plug and play system.
But Peter Gunn also had many other challenges to face — asbestos had to be removed from this Grade II protected building and Cat5 wiring installed under the gaze of English Heritage and the Listed Buildings watchdogs.
While 20 runs of cabling had to be fed from the control rack, remotely positioned in the basement, special mounts had to be made for the CBT’s, as CAV were not allowed to drill into the stone work and then the loudspeakers needed to be meticulously painted with a stippled effect (by specialist, Paul Buck) that matched the sandstone in a graduated colour that varied from location to location.
While CAV’s roots were in the events sector, prior to switching their focus to installation, Isabelle Barber confirms that in the drive to become more commercial, a permanent PA system seemed the logical progression.
“This was an important development as Rhodes House also receives many eminent visitors who give lectures,” she said. “Around seven years ago we started to become more commercial and it made sense to network the rooms in tandem with our IT and wireless development. At the same time we wanted to minimise the number of loudspeakers used and make it aesthetically discreet.”