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Tower of Technology

From the outside, Shaw Tower looks no different from any other modern high-rise. Inside, however, the new luxury condominiums contain technology, integrated by Millson Multi-Media, that surpasses the capabilities of most high-end homes in North America.

From the outside, Shaw Tower looks no different from any other modernistic residential high-rise dotting the skyline along Vancouver’s Coal Harbour waterfront. Inside, however, the new luxury condominiums contain technology, integrated by Millson Multi-Media, that surpasses the capabilities of the home networking and entertainment systems in many of the top high-end homes in North America.

Led by Richard Millson, Millson Multi-Media serves as Shaw Tower’s technology integration firm since the project’s early design stage. Coming into the project, Millson, a 20-year industry veteran, was no stranger to large-scale residential projects. Neither was the tower’s development manager, with whom Millson had worked on three other connected-community projects.

“We have always placed importance on the technology aspects of our projects, but I saw Shaw Tower as an opportunity to do something special,” said Ian Gillespie, president of Westbank Projects. “The idea was to offer purchasers the kind of technology features and amenities they would normally include if building a luxury detached home, but are rarely if ever offered in a high-rise condominium.
Richard Millson jumped at the opportunity, having already specialized in complete turnkey solutions for both residential and commercial projects.

“I remember Ian calling and telling me about the project, and it was obvious even during that initial conversation that this would be an opportunity to set a new standard for a project of this kind,” Millson said. “We have had the opportunity to create solutions for a number of projects both here in Vancouver and abroad, but I can honestly say I am not aware of anything similar to the “Residential Technology Options” package we created for Shaw Tower.”

Millson joined the project team early on and set about creating technology features that were to be included with each residential unit, as well as several options from which prospective purchaser’s could choose. An unique technological advantage for the tower was that the western headquarters of Shaw Communications, one of Canada’s largest Internet service providers, would occupy its first 11 floors. With a data center, point of presence to the Internet and call center all located on the building’s 9th floor, people living in the building will have a great advantage in terms of Internet speed and connectivity.

When a purchaser walks into their new home at Shaw Tower for the first time, all of their outlets will be wired, tested and fully functioning for telephone, cable, super high-speed Internet (connecting at 5Mbps), and will also include a fully functional and tested 100Mb local area computer network.

“We work with each of the purchasers to set up their LAN,” Millson said. “We set up their e-mail. We do any configuration of the network for them that they might require-like virtual private networks. There’s also full support and designed-in capabilities for wireless networking within the suites.”

As for thestructured wiring package in the new residences, Millson Multi-Media has installed its own branded system that the company designed as an engineered end-to-end system. The company manufactures the back can, internal modules, cable bundles, terminations at the wall, and then sells them as complete system to the developer. “It allows us to do a lot of things in a condominium where space is at a premium,” Millson explained. “You don’t have a large mechanical room like you do in a house, so everything feeding that box has to be in conduit. Virtually all of the large structured wiring manufacturers do not offer a can with conduit knockouts where we need them, and that is one of the reasons that drove us to develop our own enclosure.”

While these base building features clearly go far beyond the norm and represent unique and exciting elements of the project, Gillespie asked Millson to offer even more. “I wanted the whole experience of living at Shaw Tower to truly feel like you had stepped into the 21st century,” Gillespie said. “That meant every aspect of the experience, from the parking garage, to the building security systems, to the amenity spaces, had to be taken to another level.”

Millson recalled that he and Gillespie were discussing options for the residential amenity space on the 4th floor of the tower and how they could create something technologically special and different. “We were talking about how most residential towers are now featuring some kind of ‘Movie Theater’ space, but how they often fall short of the cinema experience. It was then that we decided to take this same concept and do it right,” Millson said.

With this new mandate, Millson worked closely with the both James Cheng Architects and Robert Ledingham Interiors to design a high-end cinema experience for the residents at Shaw Tower. The “Screening Room” as it will be known can be reserved by residents for watching movies, sporting events, the Oscars etc. The 20-seat, tiered-seating, dedicated room features Sony Qualia projection, a 100-foot Stewart four-way projection masking screen, Lutron roller shades, curtains, Lutron lighting control, AMX touchscreen control and a full THX certified surround sound system.

“It’s the equivalent of a $250,000 custom home theater that you’d find in a very large residence,” Millson explained.

For the relatively small 11-person-staff, Millson Multi-Media, creating a sophisticated system for accommodating $3-million in sales in Shaw Tower was critical to their success. According to Millson, the company spent hundreds of hours doing just that, but was aided by the insight gained in its initial role as a design consultant on the project. In that capacity, Millson developed concepts for the amenity spaces on the fourth floor and the vertical and horizontal low-voltage conduit infrastructure, determined how the security for the building and access control would work, negotiated the deal with Shaw Communications and designed the engineering behind the super high-speed Internet service.

“So we were actually paid for our time to design all of this, and then we were one of the companies that bid on it and were hired as the integrator.”

According to Millson, his company’s organizational skills and emphasis on AutoCAD drawing and documentation keeps large-scale projects like Shaw Tower under control. “We have a strong belief that documenting and engineering things prior to even stepping foot on the site is important,” he said. “We have two full-time CAD people, and we’ve just opened our second 3,000-square-foot warehouse, which is nothing but warehousing for product and organization of tools, staff, vans, equipment and product. We’ve taken our existing warehouse that’s attached to our building and turned it into nothing but pre-testing racking, fabrication. We also test all of our custom products before they go to the site.”

And Millson’s design is so well planned that Shaw Tower’s residents need simply to choose their preferences for extra technology from a checklist. To start with, residents can choose from three different levels of home cinema. These systems are completely engineered entertainment systems designed to blend seamlessly with the home’s interior. They include Sony Wega 50-inch plasmas, AMX control systems, SACD/DVD Audio/progressive-scan DVD players and a Parasound Halo processors with amplifiers. Unique features include fine millwork cabinetry that hides all of the entertainment equipment, extra electrical circuits and cooling for the built-in professional equipment rack and surround speakers flush mounted in the ceiling for an almost invisible installation.

Next up is the distributed music system, which can be controlled from a single keypad in each room. Millson chose speakers that would offer warm detailed sound even at lower volumes and provide discreet, almost invisible flush-mount appearance once installed. Millson also coordinated details of the system with the project architect, interior designer and construction contractor to ensure the system was as invisible as possible. For example, drywall bulkheads were added to bedrooms to allow the best speaker placement while still maintaining the full ceiling height in the room itself. A third option allows residents to add a Lutron lighting control system to their unit during construction. All of the standard light switches will be replaced with remote-controlled dimmers.

“If you load up one of these standard-floor plan condominiums, you’d be at about $175,000, but you’re only talking about 2,000 square feet,” Millson said. “Typically, it’s a maximum eight-zone, multi-room audio system and you have lighting control and automation touchscreen.”

Extremely wealthy individuals, however, may choose as many as three units and combine them into a large custom floor plan. In Shaw Tower there are about 20 units that are already doing that. Of the 20, Millson is involved in about 15.

“Those custom plans are like working on a free-standing custom home,” Millson said. “We meet with the clients and design the system completely from scratch. Those systems in the tower, for us, range from $250,000 to just over $500,000. It’s a completely custom floor plan. We work with the interior designer, architect and builder to coordinate everything.”

For both the custom and standard projects, Millson provides his company’s Millson Care Service, which is essentially like a bumper-to-bumper car warranty for home technology. “For the first year subsequent to occupancy if anything goes wrong for any reason, it’s just taken care of,” Millson explained. “We’ve had to build the logistics behind the scenes to be able to support that. We’re also offering them one year of unlimited residential IT support for no charge. It’s a nice comfort level in terms of being able to supply that. The clients like that very much.”

So what is the key to success for a company like Millson Multi-Media working on a project of this scale? “We had to develop a methodology to sell seven different technology options, specifically designed for six different floor plans to 130 purchasers, in addition to maintaining our existing work,” Millson said. “The methodology we developed involves a custom piece of software that’s web-based that allows us to present all of the options to the homeowners. There’s a database in the background and a web-based interface in the foreground that the customer and salesperson deals with that allows them to select all these options and different configurations on the fly. It enables us to track, in the background, a database of how many suites are getting what products and the timeframe required.

“That was quite a challenge to build in a short period of time,” Millson added. “But if we hadn’t done it, I don’t think we could have been successful in the project. In one of these suites there may be 200 documents. A client might decide to move the kitchen wall, and that can affect the plumbing. When you move the plumbing, it moves the sprinklers. When the sprinklers move, it affects the speaker locations. All of this is in motion, in real-time, for 130 suites. You had better have a good way of tracking all of it. We felt that the only way to do it was to build a custom piece of software for this project. It’s been a saving grace for us.”

Jeremy J. Glowacki is editor of Residential Systems in New York City.