Singapore’s politicians are world-renowned for their conservative policies and long-term vision. By allowing the recent development of the Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands (MBS) integrated resorts, they have wisely plotted Singapore's economic and tourism objectives for the next decade, without having to gamble any of their own capital reserves. For the economy, MBS is projected to stimulate an addition of $2.7billion or 0.8 per cent to Singapore's GDP by 2015, while directly employing 10,000 people.
Inspired by a deck of cards, the 20-hectare resort was designed by Moshe Safdie Architects on behalf of Las Vegas Sands Corporation. It’s the single most notable addition to this rapidly emerging futuristic skyline, and having cost S$8billion, it is now the world's most expensive standalone casino. The BGM within only adds up to a tiny fraction of this contract, but its integration is on a scale that Singapore has never before experienced.
Engineering for the project was provided by Arup and Parsons Brinkerhoff (MEP/ELV), with Arup describing the integration of the highly sophisticated technologies as the ‘most difficult project to carry out in the whole world’. Originally set to open in 2009, delays were inevitable as a result of escalating material costs together with a shortage in labours. The basements were constructed in deep marine clays, and a further six month delay ensued to dig deeper excavations and prevent subsidence. The global financial crisis also pressured the company to delay its projects elsewhere in order to complete the integrated resort. But following a two-day celebration on June 23rd 2010, after a partial opening earlier in April, the casino reported an operating profit of $243million for its first quarter results. The Resort is now on track to recoup its huge investment, thanks to the army of 16,000 workers employed by legions of contractors who were collectively called upon to complete almost impossible deadlines.
On a Las Vegas scale, the resort is relatively small, but like Resorts World Sentosa, it dwarves other developments in Singapore. Its forte in Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing and Exhibitions (MICE) includes a 120,000 sq-m convention-exhibition centre, a 2,560-room 55-storey hotel, the Shoppes Mall, an Art & Science museum, two Sands Theatres, six celebrity chef restaurants, two floating pavilions and, of course, a casino with 500 tables and 1,600 slot machines. The newspaper headlines have however been reserved for the SkyPark, which is the world’s longest public cantilever, overhanging the north tower by 67m. The 340m structure is home to the world's longest elevated swimming pool, with a 146m vanishing edge in addition to rooftop restaurants including Ku De Ta, nightclubs, gardens and a public observatory with 360-degree views of the Singapore skyline.
Making up just 0.5 per cent of the total workforce was a team of engineers drafted in primarily from Bangalore, India by Singaporean-based contractor Electronics & Engineering Pte Ltd, to install the Resort’s extensive background music (BGM) system. However, this was also the largest assembly of A/V installers ever set to task on what was to become Singapore’s largest ever construction site. The tender bid for E&E was approved after reams of paper documentation had been submitted. Having been in business for the best part of six decades, E&E has probably installed more sound systems in Singapore than the combined efforts of all its competitors, so references abound.
The construction began in April 2007, but the delays were put to good use by E&E as it assembled its team, drafted it to Singapore having submitted all the necessary paperwork, and trained it to the company’s meticulously high standards. Racking systems were prepared off-site, with 2,200 300m cable lengths all prepared and terminated while the BGM equipment was ordered in stages. E&E’s system design team, led by Gary Goh, also worked closely with Parson Brinkerhoff Consultants on refining the system design to suit the ever-changing conditions on site; running audio simulations and doing mock-ups to ensure that the performance and aesthetic requirements were met.
The team’s primary source of contact at MBS was the head of the extra low voltage (ELV) section, Mathew Lamb who oversaw the work of 16 contractors. ‘Following two years of what seemed like continuous meetings, I was permanently on-site until completion,’ he recalls. ‘E&E were given a green light in March 2009 and their deadlines to complete were incredibly tight. Like all big construction sites, there inevitably was a lot of congestion. In fact, given the amount of work going on, the site changed so much that I used to get lost finding my way around.’
Of the 188 ELV rooms overseen by Mr Lamb, E&E were involved in 46 for the BGM. ‘I was so impressed with the engineering at E&E – they were one of the very few contractors who were competent and had done all their preparations well in advance. That included preparing all the racks, cables and testing all the equipment. They were a low maintenance contractor who I hardly had to check up on. The cabling in their racking was all properly coded, was extremely neat and as it had been tested multiple times, there was peace of mind. Being badly behind in the overall project as we were, it was outstanding that E&E were often ahead of the game.’
E&E may be the biggest and most respected A/V systems integrator in Singapore, but MBS stretched the company’s resources to the limit, ensuring smaller project tenders passed them by. ‘We took the job on as we knew it was within our capabilities,’ enlightened MD Ronald Goh. ‘Anyone can install sound systems, but we knew that if we did a good job, we’d be rewarded with further contracts and our goal was to install the two theatres.’
Mr Goh himself took responsibility for all quality control issues, but took pride in the team he assembled for the task including Gary Goh (technical director), Joe Fong (project director), Simon Rahman (consultant), Khor Chee Hau (senior project manager), and site supervisors Mr Kari and Mr Karan. ‘Everyone knew the enormity of the project and everyone was fully committed and rose to the challenge.’
One of E&E’s main strengths is its ability to custom build and adapt to ever-changing blueprints according to the changing demands on site. The company’s 42 year old engineering and mechanical workshop, Eng Kong Engineering Works, employs 13 people where specialised prototype speaker grilles, brackets, clamps and mounts can be produced quickly and given to the client often within hours. ‘On-site, you are provided with problems to solve,’ comments Gary Goh. ‘I think we impressed Mathew with the fact that we could come back within the day with a design that would solve those problems.’ Like most modern cutting edge architecture, MBS is a huge mass of reinforced concrete, glass and marble and although BGM was a requirement, it couldn’t be seen. Therefore, loudspeakers had to be discreet in every niche outside the theatres.
Landing the MBS tender as a systems integrator translated into large product orders for the suppliers for whom E&E represent as a regional distributor in southeast Asia. The entire resort’s BGM system is based almost entirely on BSS Soundweb London BLU DSP networking products, Crown amplifiers, JBL loudspeakers, Bose planter speakers and Rane mixers. In terms of numbers, the scales are impressive – 100,000 Neutrik connectors, more than 6,000 JBL loudspeakers, over 100 Crown amplifiers, 75 BSS processors – and merited a Distributor of the Year Award from JBL in 2009. ‘JBL weren’t on the original specifications and so the consultant insisted on A-B tests,’ enlightens Gary Goh. ‘The tests showed that the JBL Control 47CT had a wider and more even coverage which meant that fewer would be needed, leading to a cost reduction.’
Various JBL speaker solutions were installed throughout MBS, but the vast majority comprise Control 47CT, Control 47LP, Control 26CT and Control 328C ceiling speakers. The Control 47CT is a 6.5-inch ceiling speaker which provides extended lower frequency extension down to 55Hz and wide 120-degree coverage. The low profile version Control 47LP was preferred in those locations with limited above-ceiling clearance of 140mm depth. The Control 328C is a 250W-rated two-way 8-inch coaxial model providing 120-degree broadband pattern control and was installed in the Grand Ballroom on Level 5. The Control 26CT is a 6.5-inch ceiling speaker and is in use in areas with a lower ceiling, such as the restrooms and the VIP hospitality suites.
The Exhibition Halls have been provided with a relatively simple JBL Control 28T speaker system, in which three to four cabinets have been fixed to alternating columns. The hotel atrium areas were strictly controlled by the architect who absolutely forbade speakers to be seen. As a result Control CBT (Constant Beamwidth Technology) 50 column speakers have been installed onto rising aluminium columns at height above 5m, meaning they are clearly out of sight and out of mind but within hearing range on the ground. The curved dual 4-inch JBL Control CRV speaker was also installed at Rise, the restaurant located in the hotel lobby. The SkyPark was also deemed a sensitive area and the Control 25AV cabinets have been tucked away again out of sight but within audible listening areas on the decking below benches.
The JBL Control 47 and 328 ceiling speakers have all been disguised by blending them into the ceiling spaces in which they have been installed. No fewer than 23 various custom paint finishes were applied to them locally depending on the zone they were being sent to. ‘There’s nothing new with custom painting speaker grilles – it was just on a far bigger scale than anything we’d done before,’ continued Mr Goh. ‘Naturally, we had to send many samples off and get them approved before proceeding.’
The Shoppes Mall was another challenge where E&E’s experience came into practice. Here, all the boutique brands such as Chanel, Gucci, Jimmy Choo and Ralph Lauren fall out of their glossy magazine pages and re-assemble in the real world under one large glazed roof structure. ‘We were provided with an extremely tight space to work with at the retail sections as the architect required all speakers to be recessed into the shop fronts,’ comments Gary Goh. ‘We considered several options but went with a JBL Control 126WT in-wall speaker mounted in our custom-built housing which fit with just millimetres to spare!’ E&E’s in-wall solution combines voice evacuation and BGM speakers in single recesses, neatly concealed behind custom made and painted metal grilles.
Cobranet is used for transporting audio between Soundweb London units and Crown CTS amplifiers located in the various ELV rooms. System monitoring and control is maintained in a central control room, using HiQnet London Architect software on a customised Sands GUI interface. Two-channel 600, four-channel 4200 and eight-channel 8200 models have been used to power the entire JBL speaker system, which have been fitted with customised DSP-based PIP-USP3CN modules. The audio within each ELV room is distributed between Soundweb London BLU-800, BLU-160 and BLU-120 units over BLU-Link, BSS’ proprietary 256 channel digital audio bus. Despite the numbers of processors used, project director Joe Fong insists that it was relatively straightforward. ‘It’s quite easy – once you’ve programmed for one area, it can be replicated to other areas with minor modifications.’
Rewards for completion were there for all following the final stage of quite an overwhelming and extremely challenging project. E&E was awarded the contract to supply and install the PA and communications systems in the two theatres under A/V consultancy firm Specialised Audio Visual (SAVI) Inc. At the time of press, E&E had just completed testing and commissioning of both theatres, with more details set to follow in the next issue of Pro Audio Asia.
Anyone that has visited Marina Bay Sands will be amazed by its grandeur and attention to detail, both of which reach a level never before seen in any resort in Singapore. There is no doubt that this dominating architectural showpiece will serve as a glowing reference for E&E well into its seventh decade of prosperity.