Feature: Wowing at the W
Feature: Wowing at the W
Melbourne can now proudly offer a W Hotel, befitting its status as a city that serves up a big slice of cool along with its hospitality. Richard Lawn (virtually) explores W Hotel Melbourne
Having been voted the world’s most liveable city for seven consecutive years by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Melbourne has a great deal to offer the discerning tourist. With riotous graffiti, an extensive arts scene, iconic laneways, fine cuisine, wineries and barista coffee on both banks of the Yarra River, exploring Melbs can prove to be an exhausting mission for the jetlagged tourist. Having crossed multiple time zones to reach this destination some 38° south of the equator, well-heeled visitors demand the finest hotels for their stay. When the investors of the Collins Arch development broke a block of ground close to the iconic Flinders Street station, a heavy gauntlet was laid down to the architect, various building contractors and of course the AV consultant.
On behalf of its client Cbus Properties, Multiplex commenced construction on Melbourne’s newest landmark in 2016. Designed by SHoP Architects and Woods Bagot, the mixed-use development’s two 39-level towers are linked by an eight-story skybridge spanning 14m. In addition to 49,000m2 of office space and 202 residential apartments, a new luxury hotel beckons at 408 Flinders Lane. Owned by Marriot International, W Hotel Melbourne comprises of 294 rooms and 29 suites across 15 levels finally opened its doors in January 2021.
Specialising in AV, building technology, communications and videoconferencing, CHW Consulting was commissioned to oversee the AV design of the Collins Arch in April 2017. During an almost four-year intermission between conception and commissioning, CHW Consulting was rebranded as UT Consulting. Responsible for managing the hospitality portfolio at UT Consulting, partner Vivek Arya has been associated with many prestigious hotel properties in Australia. Accordingly, he headed up the UT Consulting team, overseeing the design, documentation and coordination of the technology package at the W Hotel Melbourne.
From the outset, Arya realised that the W would be very different. “The aspirations of the architect Hachem exceeded any luxury hotel I had previously worked on,” he comments. “CHW worked on the Mandarin Oriental in Melbourne, which was not your run-of-the-mill hotel with detailed design features. If you could categorise it like a whisky, it would fall into the Johnny Walker Blue Label top-shelf bracket. Following on, the W ambitiously wanted to establish itself in Melbourne by positioning itself on that same top shelf, offering a next level of luxury for expectant guests.”
For guests entering the lobby, Hachem conceptualised a sensory experience like no other by blending modern luxury with bold individuality in which ambiance, artwork, lighting and music all play their part. “We had to fully envisage this luxurious setting that respects Melbourne as a culture,” continues Arya, highlighting the floor-to-painted-ceiling artwork. “Other hotel chains possess unique traits, but generally stay well within their branded comfort zone. The W goes well beyond this mark.”
From the lobby entrance to the 15th level WOW Suites, Hachem both demanded and inspired UT Consulting to deliver its best technological designs to date, charging the company with meticulously handcrafting each room to provide the seamless experience it had envisaged. Together with UT Consulting, the architect, interior designer and services engineer formed a technological design group that would meet regularly. “There were a substantial amount of resources and effort required to draw all of the elements together in a cohesive manner,” explains Arya. “Constant drawing iterations would follow the meetings. For a normal hotel project, that heavy, intense period lasts for a few weeks or months perhaps. For the W, however, it persisted for the best part of three years. From an AV perspective, we were presented with two main challenges. Firstly, the installed technology had to be concealed so as to not interrupt the flow of the space and secondly, it simply had to work without failure or delay in operation.”
Like UT Consulting, the appointed AV systems integrator commenced and completed the project under two different company names over a 30-month period. Having emerged as Australia’s biggest SI since 1979, Rutledge Engineering was incorporated into Diversified in 2019. Arya and his team, including consultant Elena Shchuchkina, had to ensure that Diversified engineers fully comprehended Hachem’s vision. Led by project manager Paul Moore, Diversified’s engineers placed their trust in proven technology including Crestron Cresnet and Q-SYS Q-LAN networks that adopt the invisible fibre and Ethernet AVoIP infrastructures.
“Although Rutledge has worked on large hospitality projects including Crown and the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre, we are perhaps not as renowned for our work in this sector,” comments W project field engineer Adam Fandert. “However, we draw upon and apply our extensive experience from our works in corporate facilities, government institutes, healthcare and sports stadiums such as the MGC and Optus Stadium. Having been provided with the W’s design together with the consultant’s brief and specifications, the team immersed itself in the works rather than worry about the client’s expectations. Paul would liaise with the architect, client and consultant before relaying changes back to the team on the ground. It was our mission to deliver a discreet, yet intuitive, easy to use AV system.”
Diversified’s mission was largely accomplished with the routing of an orderly and highly efficient cabling infrastructure. Rackmounted hardware fixed into the back of house ELV rooms enable wireless tablets and wall panel interfaces via Wi-Fi and Cat6 connection. The inclusion of Crestron and Q-SYS technologies were selected for their proven reliability and ease-of-use features. Designed to integrate easily within a modern local area IT network, Crestron’s DM (DigitalMedia) NVX AVoIP solution simultaneously encodes, decodes and scales video transmissions while Q-SYS adopts the Q-LAN IT-standard protocol suite for AV distribution in addition to device discovery, synchronisation, control and management. The addition of D-Link DGS network switches ensures real-time delivery and synchronicity of media streams across all connected devices.
The digital signage and background music (BGM) servers are located in a rear room behind the main reception. “We received an interesting design brief, challenging us to conceal the AV so as to not interrupt the flow of the space,” explains Shchuchkina. “From the concierge desk, our design allows staff to connect portable music players locally or play centralised music sources as site-wide BGM. The vibe is set as soon as guests arrive in the Porte Cochere parking area outfitted with Quest ceiling speakers and continues seamlessly to the interior lobby and reception area. The music source is intended to relax guests while masking background noises.”
Each zone is equipped with ceiling speakers that can source BGM from either the centralised server or a local input. Together with an Australian Monitor CD and radio player, five Apple Mac Minis are connected via Cat6 to a QSC Q-SYS Core 110f processor. The selected source is then output and powered by Yamaha XMV4280 and QSC CXD4.3Q amplifiers to a network of Quest QTC 6-inch ceiling speakers in the Porte Cochere entrance, lobby, toilets and back of house areas. Powered by a single QSC CXD8.4Q amplifier, Quest QTC ceiling speakers in the three ground level restaurants – Cinder, Hung and Warabi – are individually controlled via QSC TSC-55w touch panels over the Cat6 network. Each back of the house control panel allows the duty manager to connect a personal music source or utilise the site-wide BGM system.
In addition to a main PC, local video sources can be input to Atterotech UNA610O-BT wall plates routed to a Crestron CP3 processor. The selected video is then output via HDMI to the LG displays fitted with LG STB-5500 and Amino H150 IPTV receivers. Just as the Crestron NVX and Q-SYS software programming presented few challenges for Diversified’s programming manager Gary Collins, the QSC TSC-7t and Crestron TSW-1060-B-S touch panel controls offers ease-of-use source selection.
Nearly 830m2 of conference, meeting and event spaces are located on the first level. With floor-to-ceiling glazing providing an abundance of natural light, the pillarless 426m2 Great Room is the largest space on offer. Studios outside add four separate spaces that can be used for breakout areas. A 4m by 5m LED wall can be installed at one end of the divisible room to deliver sound, light and elevated visuals, while a large artwork by Melbourne artist Ash Keating spans nearly 30m across the ceiling. W Melbourne has partnered with AV specialist Microhire to provide services and fully adaptable equipment for conferencing and events.
“The W insisted that the AV technology had to blend in seamlessly and natively within the interior design so as not to distract the eye in any manner,” explains Arya. “They did not want a fixed standout front- and centre-style videowall as the focal point.” As such, UT Consulting designed an infrastructure for hosting events, including audio systems and video switching hardware, that can be controlled via the NVX platform. The fixed infrastructure includes JBL Control 30 ceiling and Quest MX601 surface mount speakers powered by a single QSC CXD8.4Qn 8-channel amplifier in addition to Screen Technics projector lifts concealed within the ceiling and Crestron TSW-1060 touch panels in each division. “AV over IP technology provides flexibility for connecting multiple sources in any configuration for varied events,” adds Arya.
The pre-function area has a network of daisy-chained Quest QTC2080i ceiling speakers and Samsung 22-inch displays for signposting visitors and promoting events. By focussing on venue flexibility, Diversified created sufficient patch points and tie lines to connect the various events spaces. The Great Room itself is furnished with 13 facility panels including Ethernet, DMX, fibre, audio and video inputs. “An events company does not want a systems integrator to dictate how they should operate an event,” admits Fandert. “Therefore, we have provided an open-ended operation that offers maximum flexibility including direct inputs to the front of house system that bypass any DSP processing and direct inputs to ceiling speakers. We also installed extensive SDI tie lines that allow them to play and transmit SDI video to the projection systems or over the network.”
Although projectors have not been installed, the projection screens and lifts are connected to Crestron DM-NVX-350 video transmitter and receiver end points for enabling touch panel control via the CP3 processor. The DM card chassis incorporates wireless AirMedia cards, IPTV and HDMI audio outputs. “Ultimately with this system, the operator decides how to broadcast video from different locations,” explains programme manager Gary Collins. “Events companies can route signals directly to the front of house system without having to worry about being locked into a touch panel.” For videowall presentations, a pair of Martin Audio CDD-Live 15 speakers are patched in to provide stereo audio playback via the Q-SYS Core 510i. The same 8-channel output processor also enables assistive listening requirements to be fulfilled in each section courtesy of installed Univox SLS-5 master and slave hearing loops.
AV room functionality in the four studios is maintained by a Q-SYS Core 110f processor and a Crestron DMF-CI-8 digital media card chassis hosting DM-NVX-350C/352C cards. Visuals are provided for by Screen Technics projection systems and LG displays, while audio is entrusted to Shure Microflex wireless transmitters and a 100-volt line network of Quest QTC 2080i ceiling speakers powered by QSC CXD4.3Qn amplifiers. All four rooms are equipped with several technical panels with XLR connections for patching to the Q-SYS Core 110i.
Between the lower elevations and the 15th level, the Ethernet infrastructure routes the Cresnet and Q-SYS networks to the control panel touchscreens in addition to the BGM and LED displays. An equipment rack on the 15th level houses a QSC CXD4.2Q amplifier powering the JBL Control 24C Micro speakers that provide elevator music for guests going up and down in the world. Those with privileged access can enter the WOW suites and Living Room lounge at the top. Crestron CP3 and Q-SYS Core 110f processors provide control and AV functionality for the Samsung displays coupled to LG soundbars, Quest ceiling speakers and HPI212S compact subwoofers, with audio signals from a BT audio receiver, local input sources or the main BGM.
Featuring a large balcony with expansive views of the Yarra River, the 175m2 Extreme Wow Suite is the W’s version of the Presidential Suite. The interactive music station has been modestly described as a fresh take on an old-school jukebox but Diversified has added its own design signature to the property having been provided a licence to create a highly unique music source. “Following several meetings with the client, Diversified was invited to create an initial concept,” recalls national operations manager Matt Edgcumbe. “We invited the client to view a prototype at our headquarters and they were sufficiently impressed. From that point, the concept really evolved.”
A large semi-circular recess on a 90° curve in the Extreme WOW Suite hosts four LG HD displays interconnected in portrait mode. Marriott uploaded its unique Melbourne artwork for embedding into the digital signage software, and the four screens combine to create a touchscreen interface. This connects to a Spotify backend that is routed to the other WOW suites. “A lot of software development and programming was required to create backend functionality,” Edgcumbe continues. “One server manages the four LG displays with two different software packages – one maintains the backend integration with Spotify and the second is for the curved display user interface.”
Other unique aspects of the hotel are the modern fitness facility and pool area, known as FIT and WET, respectively. Located directly below the WOW Suites under the gold roof of level 14, the indoor pool and poolside bar are provided with a DJ booth for special occasions and private events. A Q-SYS Core 110f processor hosts bidirectional audio streaming over a Dante network from the main BGM server and from the pool area to other hotel zones, differentiating itself from the other systems throughout the W. The 8-channel QSC CXD8.8Q amplifier powers eight Tannoy VSX8.2BP subwoofers in the wet deck, pool area and gym. Another CXD8.8Q amplifier is dedicated to a network of Tannoy CMS503 ceiling and AMS61CT surface-mount speakers.
Networked to the Core 110f processor and network switch, the DJ pod is equipped with a QSC Touchmix-8. Resident and guest DJs simply connect their mixers and turntables into the pod. AV control parameters are provided by a QSC TSC-55w-G2 touch panel. “Ease-of-use functionality was an overriding factor when we designed the DJ booths in the hotel,” explains Shchuchkina. “It’s important that technicians or external parties can connect and easily set up for seamless operation. We also factored in the digital transmission of music from the wet deck area to the lounge.”
For the corporate part of the Arch in the opposite West Tower, a background music system has been installed which the zones span across. UT Consulting also provided a design for shared amenities for residential levels such as a private dining room and yoga and exercise spaces where an instructor can connect a personal source for a session.
Unsurprisingly, the project was delayed for six months owing to the strict Covid-19 lockdown in Melbourne. “As much as it was not a huge struggle to get on and off site during that time, Diversified was restricted to just one person being allowed in any single room at any time,” explains Collins. “This was challenging, resulting in most phases of the works becoming drawn out.”
Over the four-year design and build period, UT Consulting intricately and diplomatically navigated a path of excellence from the basement to the 15th level of the W by placing the guest first and foremost in their thoughts. After all, AV plays a supporting role alongside the signature scent, vivid artwork, strength of Wi-Fi signal, diversity of cuisine and crafted cocktails. “The guest experience is much more than just what is marketed,” reflects Arya. “It’s how the guest feels when walking into a room and what their technological expectations are. Today, you expect to press a button for an AV appliance to simply work.”
The client’s operations have not been sacrificed as a result. “For equipment such as projectors, there's potentially no downtime for maintenance,” adds Arya. “The W Hotel amplified the expectation that a technological design not only needed to be completely integrated within the architecture, it also needed to be easy to operate from the hotel's perspective, while providing a very high level of functionality and reliability. When you press a button, TVs and screens need to function, and should you want to change the sound, it happens almost instantly.”