March 1, 2009 | Written by: Carolyn Heinze | Featuring: Ben Davenny | Original Publication: Worship Facilities

Designing for Sound

The best time to think about acoustics is long before the tradespeople arrive: because acoustics is determined by the size, shape and configuration of a space, the design thereof should take place when a construction project is still in the blueprints stage. Beware, however, of taking a cookie-cutter approach. Even though your building may be similar to an- other, your acoustical needs can differ greatly from the church down the street. Every congregation worships differently, and this factor plays a significant role in acoustical design.

“When designing a sanctuary, a church needs to take into account the style of worship that will be applied in the space,” says Ben Davenny, senior consultant at Acentech, an acoustical consultancy based in Cambridge, Mass. Do you practice contemporary worship, which necessitates the amplification of music and performances? Or are your services more traditional, which means that sound remains unamplified? “Whether the space will have one or the other, or both, should determine the acoustical direction of the design.”

Wall and ceiling construction is also paramount when it comes to acoustics. Thick, heavy materials, such as solid concrete, masonry block or several layers of gypsum board, reflect bass sounds back into the space, which contributes to good acoustics for unamplified services, Davenny explains. On the flipside, this isn’t ideal for amplified music, where “thin” construction materials such as several layers of gypsum board backed by stud cavities, absorb bass frequencies, which brings clarity to the sound. Contemporary worship spaces also require Designing for sound sound absorptive materials such as acoustical panels to reduce slap-back. “These are generally placed at least on the rear wall, so that slap-back echoes are reduced, and on the stage platform to reduce noise build-up on the stage,” he says.

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