Buildings for traditional religious gathering and time-honored worship practice require a balance of highly-valued acoustical qualities such as reverberance for liturgical music, ensemble for choral singing, responsiveness for congregational participation, and clarity for intelligible speech. Geometry, dimensions, proportions, cubic volume and boundary materials are critical elements of acoustical success. Many old European worship buildings are admired for their particularly fine blending of these criteria, and often cited as benchmarks for how buildings in the United States should look and sound. Although many heritage US worship buildings look like their European precedents in terms of layout, shape and size, a critical design element was modified, upsetting the acoustical balance. Boundary materials became lighter and thinner, making construction easier, faster and less expensive.
Acoustical upgrade of these existing buildings in the context of historic preservation/restoration brings additional design complexity, requiring equal measures of compromise from owner, users, acoustician, architect and engineers. The acoustician’s dilemma becomes “what we see may not be what we hear,” as acquired acoustical expectations are upended by actual conditions. This paper will describe these differences and explore approaches to acoustical enhancement within limitations of the buildings themselves plus further constraints of contemporary preservation practice.
About the presenter: Dan Clayton has more than thirty-five years of experience in architectural acoustics, audio design, pipe organs, theatre and music, and is principal consultant for Clayton Acoustics Group. His firm has undertaken more than 400 projects, the majority for churches and synagogues. His design philosophy and practice are acoustics-centered and engineering-based, adhering to the theory that “acoustics is architecture.” Dan is a member of the ASA, AES & NCAC, and has chaired technical sessions on pipe organ acoustics for ASA meetings.
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