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A sound ceiling

Interiors | November 1, 2010 | By:

Threshold Acoustics practices what it preaches in their new Chicago offices.

Carl Giegold, principal in the Chicago-based Threshold Acoustics LLC, used the knowledge of his discipline to soothe his landlord’s lament of “Why do you need that?”

The landlord had asked Giegold why his firm wanted an open office plan when the historic building typically attracts tenants seeking traditional office cubicles. The acoustical design firm recently moved into a historic building located in Chicago’s Loop that has strict rules about the kinds of architectural interventions permitted.

Threshold is a creative design practice. Its staff designs the acoustics of major performance halls. Among the firms’ current projects is the improvement of the room acoustics in Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. The design team works simultaneously with ever-changing collaborations on projects so the firm wanted an open office interior to facilitate its work style with project partners. But in open-plan interiors, a hard ceiling is remarkably democratic and troublesome: everyone can be heard! As Giegold pointed out, “We are large enough to make a good racket on a busy day, and everyone needs time to focus.”

When a flat, monolithic, nonintrusive ceiling is called for in sensitive or historic structures, stretched fabric systems are getting justifiable notice. The technical fabric installed on Threshold’s ceiling is a Clipso USA proprietary woven polyester with a polyurethane coating and a soft matte white finish. The weave, critical to the absorption of high frequency sound, is nearly invisible, even at close scrutiny, but still allows the fuzz behind it to take out most of the speech and equipment noise that would otherwise reflect from the ceiling.

“The coating seals the cells of the fabric, which is anti-static, stain resistant and hydrophobic,” says Clipso’s director of sales Jeff Dordick. “It also has a Class A fire rating.” That alone makes it a valuable asset in any historic building, not to mention one in a city with a history of fires.

“If the fabric is held to the light you see little sparkles,” says Dordick. “These are micro-perforations. Sound actually passes through the fabric and is absorbed by material behind it.” Since it’s acoustically transparent, there is almost no reverberation. This fabric has also been effectively used in a new admissions building at Brandeis University, the walls of a church and in a performing arts center.

In Threshold’s offices and conference room, numerous fabric panels are tucked into plastic profiles at the room’s perimeter and cover large areas without sagging. The largest of the panels is about 4m wide and more than 18m long—seamless, taut and nearly indistinguishable from plaster. Installation was by The HUFF Co. Inc., based in Libertyville, Ill.

“The installation process is not for the faint of heart,” says Giegold. “A 65m2 piece of fabric has strong opinions and requires persuasion, but HUFF’s crew was clearly up to the task.” The visual and acoustic effect is dramatic, and word of its success seems to be working its way around the building. Quietly, we presume.

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