A Study of Acoustics

June 28, 2024


June 28, 2024


At Clarion University, our team was able to get back to the drawing board and re-envision the concept of student housing and what these buildings can offer. Transforming the connection between the community and the university was the cornerstone of the project, which came to life in the mixed-use Suites on Main that exist today. The adjacent buildings contain your classic student life concepts with a twist – these buildings are also home to restaurants, retail, and most uniquely, a first-floor movie theater that is open to students and the community alike.

Read on to learn more about strategies for acoustics in mixed-use projects...

Establishing Community

The Suites on Main offer a convenient space for every individual to become a part of the campus community – whether a part of the university or not. The scale, character, and amenities of the complex offer a bridge between the small-town and urban university experiences. A balance of various levels of public and private spaces is woven together to create community at all levels. This project embodies the ideal of building community through inspired design.

An immersive community includes not only the students but the individuals who surround the university as well. An open door to the neighborhood allows for an avenue of community involvement that is not achieved in other student housing experiences across the country. These experiences are building additional foundations for the concept of community that already exists in student housing projects.

The Science of Acoustics

The primary acoustic goal for mixed-use residential facilities is to afford residents and mixed-use tenants the freedom to go about their daily activities without the fear of disrupting or being disrupted by their neighbors. This element is especially important in student housing facilities as different types of students operate on different schedules and rely on having a peaceful environment in their living facility for studying, relaxing, sleeping, etc.

In a facility like The Suite on Main, the consideration of acoustics is not a small piece of the puzzle. Employing tools that will allow the sound to be isolated and not disturb other building residents, but mass producing these elements in an affordable manner is a challenge that all of these types of facilities face during the design and construction process. These acoustic considerations are particularly challenging in facilities that contain noisy mixed-use occupancies such as restaurants, movie theaters, and fitness facilities. The movie theater at Clarion was programmed to show commercial-quality movies including audio playback through a robust surround sound system. As such, the facility was capable of generating significant levels of low-frequency noise, which can be extremely difficult to isolate.

Measuring Acoustics

Acoustic considerations for residential facilities can be very complicated and nuanced, but it does not have to be a guessing game for stakeholders. Every aspect of acoustics and things discussed in this article, including seemingly subjective metrics, can be tied back to acoustic criteria which can be measured, simulated, designed to, and verified in the field. Multiple different institutions and building codes put forth guidelines and required thresholds for the acoustic aspects of facilities, which help to guide the design process, and are tested multiple times throughout the construction and inspection process.

Two of the most widely known measurement scales are Sound Transmission Class (STC), which is a single number rating that summarizes an assembly’s overall sound isolation, and Impact Isolation Class (IIC) which is a similar rating describing resistance to footfall impacts. While reviewing both categories is important to the facility, they provide no insight into an assembly’s resistance to low-frequency noise and impact noise from music, vehicles, building equipment, high-impact fitness activities, etc. Because of this, in addition to these classifications, test reports from the field are also relied on to relay information about how sound is being transmitted between units.

While these tests and measurement scales are not foolproof, as the amount of noise that one (or multiple) residents can make through various activities, they are the best tools to ensure that acoustical factors have been deemed to affect the opinion and living experience of residents.

Sound and Wellness

Wellness is a continual thread in projects, as built environment elements are directly proven to have an impact on those who occupy the building. One of the main areas where these concepts are of the utmost importance is residential living facilities, more specifically, student housing. Research has found that excessive noise triggers subconscious physiological effects, and internal reactions to these sounds include the release of stress hormones, which can impact an individual’s mood, health, and well-being. Persistent noise in a residential setting is particularly damaging because these stress responses occur repeatedly over long time periods. With this information coming to light, the regulation of sound through acoustical avenues during the design and construction and efforts by those living in residential facilities has become a factor that influences all aspects of residential facilities from design to tenant retention.

A project is not just what exists that you can see, the majority of the significant factors that make or break a facility are hidden inside the walls. The consideration and planning for factors like acoustics are an integral part of the design process. Having coordination between the entire team and a collaborative approach makes for successful projects – just like The Suites on Main.

The Value of Expertise

Our team brings more than 25 years of experience on over 135 college and university campuses, we enhance student living and learning through design. We have earned a national reputation as a leader in the programming, planning, and design of student life projects in higher education. 

Check out our higher education portfolio for more insights and please get in touch with any questions. We look forward to the opportunity to bring better value to your projects. 

Article authored by Maria Kyriacopoulos, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Associate Principal, in collaboration with Greg Coudriet – Principal & Founder, Auxia Design. The acoustical work for The Suites on Main at Clarion University was performed by NV5, formerly The Sextant Group.

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