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A $1.5 Million Lesson In Acoustics

In September, a school board in Fairview Heights, IL, voted to sue the architectural firm that designed the school's new $1.5 million multipurpose concrete dome building, which houses a gymnasium and band room.

In September, a school board in Fairview Heights, IL, voted to sue the architectural firm that designed the school's new $1.5 million multipurpose concrete dome building, which houses a gymnasium and band room. Apparently, the school learned the hard way that solid, curved reflective surfaces can create a reverberant field that's both noisy and destructive to speech intelligibility.

Meanwhile, anyone in our industry would have immediately seen a red flag after reading the words “multipurpose concrete dome.” Multipurpose facilities often present conflicting acoustical requirements, and in this case, the client wanted the facility to be used as a gymnasium, music room, and meeting room. If you wanted to design the worst possible acoustical environment for this project, you'd probably come up with a large concrete dome, right?

This real-world situation dramatically highlights the disconnect between the AV trades and the building construction trades. It's a perfect worst-case scenario of what can happen when a building is designed without considering the acoustical consequences. While the lawsuit starts with the architectural firm, it's inevitable that the blame will eventually spread to acoustical consultants and AV integrators.

I hope this case causes both the design community and the AV world to realize that they need to come together. Certainly, industry awareness initiatives and special sessions for architects at our trade events are commendable efforts. But I think it's far more effective to spotlight real-world scenarios like this dome project that illustrate the potential negative consequences of perpetuating this disconnect between us. Certainly AV consultants and integrators need to consider to the economic and aesthetic issues of design. And architects need to better understand the interaction of sound and light in interior spaces, as well as how these spaces affect the performance of electronic AV systems. Architects already deal with light; it's common for the position and movement of sun to be a first-order consideration in building location and orientation. So why not acoustics?

Maybe it's because they don't consider acoustics a design tool. So here's an idea. Architects are familiar with the informal “lunch and learn” programs sponsored by various furniture, fixtures, and equipment (FF&E) suppliers.

Why not approach your local design firm, offer to buy lunch, and tell them how acoustics can be a “design tool?” Tell them how the AV services you provide can be used help them achieve their client's primary objectives, rather than serve as a necessary evil once the building is complete.

Simple outreach efforts at the local level may be even more effective than recounting horror stories like this one. By demonstrating how AV can actually be another color on the architect's palette, you'll not only prove yourself a valuable asset, but also one that can potentially save them $1.5 million.

Mark Mayfield
Editor



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