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Author Topic: Tried and True Church Plans with Good Acoustics?  (Read 411 times)

JohnCoxNC

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Tried and True Church Plans with Good Acoustics?
« on: April 07, 2014, 10:50:51 am »

Every time someone asks for advice about a sound system the discussion invariably turns to the room, as it should.  Usually there are already plans drawn and construction is well underway and a critique of the room acoustics ensues..."The room" is a huge factor, I get it.  I'm part of a new church that doesn't know what our next step may be.  Currently we meet in a family life center (read: gym) of an existing church.  There's always the chance we may be able to acquire the entire property and the question I'm going to pose will change and we'll have to adapt to an existing structure.  The same would be the case if we moved to a school, existing commercial property.  It's a different situation if we were to build and I'm trying to get the cart before the horse - before the horse is even grown.  Is there a resource out there for existing church plans that have a sanctuary/worship center that has great acoustics - or at least acoustics that aren't problematic?  I don't have a budget because at this point there is no concrete plan, but that could change quickly.  We've all read about - and heard the mistakes that have been made.  Has anybody built a 300-500 seat (just a guess) room inexpensively and gotten it right acoustically?   We'll worry about the electronics when there's a definite space to place them in...Thanks 
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Brad Weber

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Re: Tried and True Church Plans with Good Acoustics?
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2014, 12:16:08 pm »

John,
 
There may be some general guidelines but not specific designs as each space may differ and sometimes even slight differences may have larger implications.  There is a group out there that has tried to distill everything down to a set of fairly simple rules but I happen to be one of those who disagrees with applying 'blanket' guidelines to churches.  The primary reason for that is that not only may the physical spaces differ but the related services, needs, goals, budgets, etc. can also differ significantly.  Even ignoring all else, what might be considered good acoustics for one church may not be appropriate for another.
 
The potential differences in the physical spaces become even more applicable when you consider that acoustics can go beyond just room size, shape and finishes to also encompass interior and/or exterior noise isolation, mechanical systems noise, building system vibration control and so on.  A Sanctuary adjacent to an airport or major highway may have some different acoustical issues than one in the middle of nowhere, but those issues may also differ from the issues a church with contemporary services located close to adjacent residences might encounter.
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Jonathan Johnson

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Re: Tried and True Church Plans with Good Acoustics?
« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2014, 02:58:58 pm »

I'll have to agree with Brad that there is no "one size fits all" solution to acoustics.

The biggest mistake is bringing in the acoustician after the plans are largely finalized. It's also a mistake to bring in an acoustician before you even know what you want or need.

When the time comes to build out your own space, you'll probably spend some time amongst the congregation hashing out dreams and ideas. You'll probably even come up with a few sketches. Once you've identified your needs based more-or-less on this list:
  • Your worship style (good acoustics for a Gregorian choir does not equal good acoustics for a CCM praise/worship band)
  • Size of audience space needed
  • Size of worship team, which determines...
  • Size of stage/dais area
  • Location
  • Ancillary areas (narthex, restrooms, classrooms, flex space, kitchen, etc.)
  • Design vision (sketches)
  • Finances
it's time to bring the acoustician and the architect onto the project team together. Since the two disciplines are so interwoven, it's essential that they both be on board together at the same time. Something that seems so innocuous as the finish on the wall can have a huge impact on the acoustics. Changing the angle of something by just a few degrees can make a difference.

Bring in the acoustician (or, for that matter, the architect) too soon and you'll be wasting your money and their time while you're trying to figure out what you want. Bring them in too late, and they won't have enough flexibility to work with.
« Last Edit: April 07, 2014, 03:07:37 pm by Jonathan Johnson »
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Frank DeWitt

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Re: Tried and True Church Plans with Good Acoustics?
« Reply #3 on: April 07, 2014, 10:11:24 pm »

This seems like a great question and I bet there is a size and shape that will work every time given some more conditions (as had been said.)  It also seems like valuable info to have.  So lets fill in the blanks.

Type of service (Praise band, choir, pipe organ, other)
Number of people?

Lets assume that he HVAC has to be done right and that there is enough land for any shape and there is not an airport or bomb test facility next door

OK then, we know that we can design a speaker cabinet.  We can design a studio,  We can design a multi media room. We can even design move theaters and have them work over and over.

We can model a room in EASE.  Put in the right speakers, and if it is a good room with the right speakers we know it will sound good, so if I attend that church with the good room and good system and then go to another state and build one just like it and have the same people install and adjust the sound system it will sound just as good.  So some one hands you a set of plans.  What do you want to see.  What do you not want to see,

How about a perfect hemisphere made from concrete with flat paint on the walls and a polished concrete floor.  Is that a good room?
OK how about a rectangle 100 ft long and 65 ft wide with a cathedral ceiling 8' at the sides and 32 ft in the middle running the long way.  Platform at one of the long ends, your choice of wall treatments, carpet on the floor and padded pews.  Could that be a good room.

I know that there is no one size fits all solution but I bet if you find a size that fits a certain situation in Ohio that size will fit a similar situation in Vermont.

   
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Jonathan Johnson

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Re: Tried and True Church Plans with Good Acoustics?
« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2014, 12:49:36 am »

I know that there is no one size fits all solution but I bet if you find a size that fits a certain situation in Ohio that size will fit a similar situation in Vermont.

Aunt Betty thinks it's ugly.
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Brad Weber

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Re: Tried and True Church Plans with Good Acoustics?
« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2014, 10:57:17 am »

Frank, even if you did make assumptions on the general use, how do you then define the recommendations?  For example, you could recommend a reverberation time but that isn't defining a design as much as defining a goal.  You can say to put 1" thick acoustical panels on some percentage of the wall surfaces but not all 1" thick acoustical panels offer the same acoustical performance.  Then there's when the aesthetic committee decides they don't like the standard fabric coverings offered for the acoustical panels so they decide to cover the panels with a fabric that greatly diminished their acoustical value.
 
Just for some reference, I once worked for a church group that built churches all over the US based on a limited number of standard building plans.  Even with those standard plans, every Project had to be go through a design effort in order to address local building codes, local soil and weather conditions, aesthetic preferences, locally available labor and building materials and so on.  And then each individual Project design had to be reviewed to make sure it was still in compliance with the intent of the standard plans, a review that included an acoustics and audio specialits as part of the review team.  The simple fact was that many Architects or local church representatives often incorporated deviations from the standard plans without realizing the impact those changes had on acoustics.
 
You can make some gross generalizations such as to typically try to avoid round or square (and even worse, cubed) rooms, to try to introduce diffusing elements, that convex surfaces are tyically better than concave surfaces, acoustical treatments are generally most effective when applied to include ear level height and so forth, however those are more general guidelines than a design.
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Frank DeWitt

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Re: Tried and True Church Plans with Good Acoustics?
« Reply #6 on: April 08, 2014, 11:26:25 am »

Great big Grin
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