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A look back at my first 20 years at Acentech

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Ben Markham's first 20 years at Acentech

Before looking ahead to the years to come (stay tuned for a future blog post on Acentech’s exciting future), I thought I’d reflect on how grateful I am for the remarkable journey of the last 20 years.

I began my career at Acentech in 2002, and in the time since have watched the firm grow in size and in sophistication, bring innovative technologies to our projects, and contribute to the design of literally thousands of great-sounding, beautiful, and highly functional facilities. It has been an honor to contribute to some of those developments, which would not have been possible without the support of Acentech’s uniquely collaborative and nurturing work environment. Here are a few highlights:

A commitment to education (2002). My offer letter to Acentech didn’t just include a start date; it also included an assignment. Before showing up for work, I was to spend 2 weeks living in State College, PA, taking accelerated summer courses at Penn State’s lauded acoustics program. Acentech covered the costs. To this day, tuition reimbursement is a standout benefit that many Acentech staff enjoy –in fact, Acentech has bankrolled the entire Masters degrees of several current staff.

Befriending Leo Beranek (2003). The opportunity to give a ride to the symphony for the founding father of our field, Leo Beranek, was the start of my friendship with a professional idol. I wrote about the experience, and Leo’s many contributions to concert hall acoustics, in Acoustics Today.

Internoise Prague (2004). Acentech has steadfastly supported engagement with professional societies, including the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) and the Institute of Noise Control Engineering (INCE). I was invited to speak about library acoustics at Internoise in Prague (based on research for our project with Gehry Partners on Princeton’s Lewis Science Library), and Acentech made it happen.

3DListening® (2005). Central to our work on the Museum of Fine Arts expansion was a complex, interactive acoustical simulation of the glass-enclosed Shapiro Family Courtyard, at various stages of design under the direction of design architect Foster & Partners and the architect of record, CBT. The simulation enabled members of the MFA Trustees’ Building Committee to hear, firsthand, the acoustical implications of design decisions. 3DListening® was born.

Concert Hall Research Group (2006). In the summer of 2006, the CHRG Summer Institute met in Aspen, CO, and Chris Savereid and I delivered a paper on the incorporation of adjustable acoustical elements in remedial projects – a formative learning experience.

Sala Sinfonica (2007). The home of the Puerto Rican Symphony is Sala Sinfonica Pablo Casals, at the Centro de Bellas Artes in San Juan. Working on this lovely 1300-seat concert hall is a career highlight.

RPI (2008). With Acentech’s support, I graduated with a Masters Degree from RPI and returned to full-time work in the fall of 2008. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to take this year-long educational leave of absence, without having to look for a new job.

Buenos Aires (2009). An office building in a challenging site – adjacent to two railroad tracks and under a major flight path – gave me the opportunity to travel to Buenos Aires in a collaboration with Jeff Zapfe.

Teaching at MIT (2010). Carl Rosenberg had been conducting a seminar on architectural acoustics at MIT for years. In 2010, he invited me to co-teach with him. In 2012 I began teaching solo, and have treasured doing so ever since. Acentech has many staff engaged with teaching, including stints at Tufts, Harvard, RISD, Brown, Roger Williams, Berklee, the BAC, and beyond.

Group Director (2012). It has been my honor to lead Acentech’s architectural acoustics and mechanical noise control group for the last decade.

Teaching at Cornell (2013). Teaching sometimes begets more teaching; after having taught classes for MIT and Harvard, Cornell came calling in 2013, where I taught courses until the start of the pandemic.

Sound Isolation and Noise Control for Steel Buildings (2015). Eric Ungar and I collaborated to author a Design Guide to serve as a resource on acoustical design for those working in steel buildings. Earlier this year, my colleague Jay Bliefnick led the development of a similar compendium of acoustics information for concrete buildings.

Cary Memorial Hall, Lexington (2016). Historic preservation is a key aspect of Acentech’s work. The renovations to Cary Hall in Lexington, MA – home to the Lexington Symphony as well as an outstanding concert series – involved reducing mechanical noise, adding adjustable acoustics elements, and more.

ESOP (2017). Acentech’s long history of widely distributed ownership was bolstered in 2017 when we formed an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). Now, nearly everyone at Acentech with at least a year at the company is an owner with full voting rights. Shared responsibility and shared benefits!

Rosen Concert Hall, Broyhill Music Center, Appalachian State University (2018). My colleague Jonah Sacks and I had the pleasure of working on an “update” to a gem of a performance space at App State in Boone, NC, that our colleague and mentor, Rein Pirn, helped to design initially. The 2018 renovation, designed with the building’s original architect, added adjustable features to the platform and extended the overhead canopy, improving ensemble listening and broadening the range of uses of the hall beyond its initial design intent. Over the years, higher ed music spaces have become something of a specialty for Studio A. Jonah presented a paper on the project at this year’s Acoustical Society of America meeting in Denver.

ENR Top 20 under 40 (2019). A career highlight, and a distinct honor.

Remote 3DListening (2020). With the pandemic lockdown in place, my colleague Matt Azevedo led an innovative effort to make our 3DListening® auralization technology accessible remotely (an idea we’d had in development since at least 2017). In 2020, I had the opportunity to employ this approach in the design of a residential development located near an industrial site, and the simulation allowed the developer and design team to make informed decisions about the façade design and window selections.

A new strategic plan (2021-22). As Acentech continues to grow, we have been planful and intentional about our future. Stay tuned for more exciting updates ahead!