When Lakewood Church in Houston set out to do an overhaul of its 16,000-seat arena, the technical team called upon Russ Berger Design Group to identify what acoustical issues they were dealing with. Reed Hall, Lakewood's director of audio and technical production, explained that there were quite a few, including excessive low frequencies that are common in many arena spaces, and the noise created by various systems, such as the HVAC.
As one can imagine, finding acoustical solutions for a 16,000-seat space isn't cheapone "fix" involved encasing the air handling system in cinderblock and placing it on shock-absorbing tablesbut Hall recounts that the upfront investment was less expensive than it would have been had Lakewood ignored these issues until later down the road, or attempted to mask them with technology. "You can't electronically treat an acoustical problem because of the construction of the building," he says, " you can only address the symptoms. It's a whole lot less expensive to address it at the onset of the project. Spend the money taking care of your acoustical issues. The sound system that you are putting in today will be replaced in 7-10 years. It's cheaper to get the acoustics done right the first time."
Hall also emphasizes the value in hiring acousticians. "Especially with ground-up construction, get with an acoustical firm," he counsels. "There are architectural firms that say, we do acoustics, too,' but make sure that you have an acoustical firm that really understands the facility and what you're trying to do, and the desires that you have for it to be quiet." He notes that a great way to guide acousticians through your goals is to visit other facilities that have gotten it right. "The time you spend doing that will save you so many headaches in trying to fix things that you're not happy with, after the fact," he adds.
But while there is no harm in seeking out guidance from your counterparts at other churches, Nick Colleran, principal of Acoustics First Corp. in Richmond, Va., cautions against modeling your new facility or renovation based on something you saw on television. "Don't assume as seen on TV' is what the room that you are looking at sounds like," he asserts. "Typically, people will see things on television and it's a nice-looking space, and they think the sound they are hearing was done in that space. Chances are, it wasn't."
If you can hear clear speech and the room on screen is filled with glass, it's likely that the audio you are hearing was recorded, and edited, elsewhere. "You can't trust your eyes to tell you what that room sounds like if you don't know if it was recorded there," Colleran adds.