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Corporate Office Breaks Mold With AV

Chicago-based real estate investment trust Trizec Properties blends modern architecture with AV to create a unique corporate headquarters.

Corporate Office Breaks Mold With AV

Chicago-based real estate investment trust Trizec Properties blends modern architecture with AV to create a unique corporate headquarters.

To prevent image distortion in a combinable conference room in the Chicago headquarters of real estate investment trust Trizec Properties, the AV division of Continental Electrical Construction Company of Skokie, IL, hung projection screens on an angled soffit and installed projectors several inches apart in the ceiling to ensure identical images on the screens when the rooms are combined.

CHALLENGE: Install AV technology in an architecturally challenging environment that includes angled lines, obtuse corners, glass walls, and large picture windows.

SOLUTION: Use various-sized flat-panel displays to overcome excessive ambient light in tight spaces, and creatively hang projectors and screens to prevent image distortion.

INSTEAD OF traditional framed paintings, digital signage is the artwork of choice at the Chicago offices of Trizec Properties, a real estate investment trust that considers itself anything but typical. Visitors that walk into its lobby at 10 South Riverside Plaza are greeted by walls of plasma and LCD monitors, a staircase made almost entirely of glass, and large windows overlooking the Chicago River. Angled lines and recessed walls are subtle, but striking. It’s all designed to draw your eye, and pull you away from doing what most people do in a waiting room: sit and wait.

“The idea was that people would come in and move around,” says Barry Robinson, Trizec’s IT operations director. “We wanted to project that we’re forward thinking and that we use space well. There are a lot of options for how people position themselves while they’re waiting for a meeting.”

The two floors of 10 South Riverside Plaza that make up Trizec’s headquarters were redesigned by Cleverspin, a Chicago-based architectural firm, which had some unique ideas about how the space could be best presented.

Interactive art

The architect chose to frame a trio of 32-inch LCD displays by cutting out a long section of hallway leading from the lobby area to the conference rooms. The task of installing the displays fell to the AV division of the project’s electrical subcontractor, Continental Electrical Construction Company (CECCO) of Skokie, IL.


Time is money, and any new idea that keeps a project on time makes both the contractor and the client happy. Six years ago, Continental Electrical Construction Company (CECCO) became one of the first electrical contractors to develop its own AV division. Although the division can bid projects separately from its mother company, when it works on the same project, the lines of communication are greatly improved. “Because CECCO always had people onsite, we had a lot of coordination with other trades in the field,” says Mike Mueller, project manager of CECCO’s AV Division.

For example, Mueller’s crews knew in advance that all of the cabling and wiring for the conference rooms at Trizec Properties would have to go in before the permanent ceiling went up. When the time came, they were ready. Most independent AV integrators would prefer a spot at the table when the planning for a project gets underway. But sometimes they find themselves low on the totem pole, and have to contend with layers of other contractors before they can complete their work.

“The coordination with electrical is always very hard,” says Rob Pourciau, who sold his New Orleans AV firm Soundworks to New Orleans-based Frischhertz Electric Co. earlier this year. “It’s a lot easier now because I know the electrical guys on these large hotel or casino projects. You know they’re keeping pace with you.”

However, not everyone in the AV business likes this trend. Pourciau admits he hit a lot of opposition when he sold Soundworks. “A lot of people in my industry frowned on it,” he says. “They thought we were cheating in a way. But I’m not sitting in meetings anymore saying, ‘Why hasn’t the electrical done this and why haven’t the network guys run cable there?’ That project timeline becomes a lot easier because you know your stuff’s getting done.’”

Soundworks remained intact after the sale, and still does some of its business independently of Frischhertz. “I do think this is a future trend,” Pourciau says. “It’s a good thing for the growth of the industry.”

An AV consultant with Environmental Systems Design of Chicago, Dan Grimaldi, was also brought in on the project, and was charged with selecting the displays. “The LCD displays were where the challenge came in because the wall could only be so thick — no more than 6 inches for both the mount and screen,” he says. “We had to find a display and a mount with a very small form factor that was large enough to meet the requirements of the architect and the needs of the client.”

Mounted using Peerless LCFL-V400 flat wall mounts, the Sharp LC32D5U displays fit the space perfectly, hanging flush with the outer wall. Each display carries a different digital signage message, from the company’s history to daily birthday greetings, and is visible to anyone entering the lobby or coming down the glass staircase from the office areas above. By framing the monitors with the wall, they became more noticeable, but also physically less intrusive.

Aware that not every visitor would help themselves to a cup of coffee and wander around, Trizec chose to add a 50-inch LG MU50PM10 plasma display on another wall of the lobby, behind the room’s only seating area. “The large display wasn’t even part of the original design,” Grimaldi says. “We realized we’d have some folks who just wanted to sit, so to give them part of the interactive experience, we set up the large display.”

The plasma display dominates what was essentially a barren wall on the opposite side of the lobby from the trio of smaller LCD displays. Each display has a dedicated source PC housed in a nearby cabinet. Source content can be anything from local investment news from a contract television service to a PowerPoint presentation of Trizec’s properties fed in from an office computer.

Not so straight lines

Trizec’s AV installation encompassed not only the lobby, but three conference rooms — two of which can combine into one for larger meetings. A fourth room serves as a training room with projection used for computer training, while a fifth is used as an employee lunch room and also doubles as a large meeting area.

When CECCO’s AV team began work on the two combinable conference rooms, named Chicago and Montreal after major markets where Trizec does business, subtle challenges began to emerge. Mike Mueller, project manager of CECCO’s AV Division, quickly discovered that everything wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed. “The window side of the conference room is wider than the opposite entrance side of the room,” he says. “It’s not that obvious until you’re actually in the space, but the drywall soffit where the screens are hung is on an angle.”

The integrators had to position and hang 100-inch diagonal Draper Targa screens on the soffit first, and then mount two Sanyo PLC-XT11 LCD projectors within the throw range of each screen. Robinson says the Sanyo PLC-XT11 LCD projectors were selected because of their 2,700 ANSI lumens of brightness. “They had to have a certain luminosity because they project against a screen that faces a wall of windows,” he says. “We were working against a lot of light.”

And because the screens weren’t located at the same distance or angle, it meant that the projectors had to be mounted in different locations. A simple drop ceiling would have been easier, but the ceiling in these conference rooms wasn’t conventional. “The ceiling is made of large, thick acoustical panels that don’t go edge-to-edge or front-to-back,” Mueller says.

There are gaps between the panels, which are permanently attached to a support structure suspended from the deck above. Many of the rooms are completely open to the underside of the floor above, so by hanging these panels, it gave the ceiling a finished look and an illusion of height. “They look like they’re just floating out there,” Mueller says. “They’re heavy, unlike like a drop tile that you can lift up. Any material above the ceiling where our cabling and equipment are located had to be in place before the ceiling went up. There was no going back.”

CECCO’s integrators installed cable, projector mounts, and projection screen supports above the finished ceiling elevation before the installation of the ceiling panels. Then CECCO worked with the ceiling installers for the proper location and size of cutouts required for eight JBL Control 24CT speakers, which needed to be flush mounted with the heavy ceiling panels. Mueller also added an Extron MediaLink MLS406MA switcher because it included a built-in amplifier and fit snugly into the custom millwork of the control room credenza.

Enhancing connectivity

A third conference room presented other challenges. The New York conference room, which is smaller and includes a fixed conference table, has a trio of glass walls and a single solid wall. Instead of a projector and screen, CECCO’s AV crew hung an LG MU50PM10 plasma display on the solid wall. The 50-inch display with built-in speakers is surrounded by a custom-built credenza.

The challenge in this room was providing laptop connectivity from the fixed conference table to the plasma display. The only concealed cable raceway from the conference table to the plasma display was an existing 1/2-inch conduit from the floor under the table to the wall supporting the plasma display. A VGA cable couldn’t be installed in the already occupied conduit, and asbestos issues prevented another conduit from being added.

To provide a computer signal to the plasma display without using a standard VGA cable, the solution required installing an Extron HSA 200C Hideaway tilt-up interface plate in the tabletop for data and AV component connectivity, an Extron VTT001 twisted pair transmitter in the table, an Extron VTR001 twisted pair receiver in the credenza, and a Cat5 UTP cable in the 1/2-inch conduit. For ease of accessibility in the narrow space, the video sources are housed inside the credenza on pullout drawers.

Addressing ambient light

Called the Retreat, the employee lunchroom is home to another LG MU50PM10 plasma display that can be used for entertainment and business purposes. The room, which can accommodate up to 70 people, also doubles as a meeting space. Because a long wall of windows without curtains would flank any display installed in the Retreat, Mueller suggested using a plasma display, which wouldn’t be affected by ambient light issues.


The 50-inch plasma display has a VGA PC connection for PowerPoint presentations or conference calls using WebEx. A TV tuner also enables viewing of local news or sports events. It was the success of this plasma that prompted Trizec to hang one in the main lobby.

The final room of AV installation was the training room, an inner room without windows. Designed as a future production studio, CECCO installers moved Trizec’s original AV system, including a Draper Targa 6- by 8-foot retractable projection screen and a Sanyo PLCXP21 ceiling-mounted projector with PC connections, from its previous location to this room, where it complements desktop computers used for training. “The space is soundproof and the lighting is designed for videotaping, but we haven’t put in the production equipment yet,” Robinson says.

A successful result

The finished AV project, which cost about $130,000, added equipment and technology that far exceeded Trizec’s previous AV capabilities. “We wanted to use technology to a greater extent to gain more impact with employees and clients,” Robinson says. “Most of the feedback we get from people is that they love the technology elements. They’re the things that are most visibly different from our former space that people notice on a day-to-day basis.”

For the uninitiated, Trizec even added “recipe cards” to the walls of each room to explain its capabilities. “We’re at a different place than we were, both organizational and capability-wise,” Robinson says. “It’s a positive environment. When people join our group, we want them to know where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going.”

Wendy Ellis is a freelance writer based in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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