The problem was reverberation. The newly renovated Campus Center at Mount Saint Mary’s University’s Chalon Campus, Los Angeles, CA, a 4700 square-foot multipurpose event space, was plagued by echoey acoustics that interfered with audibility in the room. The solution turned out to be a simple replacement of the hard ceiling panels with lightweight thermoformed acoustic panels.
The Campus Center space had several lives since construction of the Humanities Building, designed by Bark & Ott and completed in 1966. The space was originally the Commuter Lounge, a Mid-Century Modern living room for students that did not live on campus and needed a place to gather between classes. As the only large meeting space on the campus without fixed seating, it later became a multi-function space used for assemblies, parties, luncheons and teas, board meetings, performances, lectures, and classes.
The room received a makeover in 2013 as part of a larger renovation project to create a more attractive and welcoming main entrance to the campus from the parking structure. The renovation was led by Thomas Michael of M2A Architects (Ojai, California) an architect with a special interest in the preservation and reuse of historic structures, who worked to imbue new life into the space.
The large windows were adorned with millwork arches, a supergrid of broad ceiling beams was added, and boxy fluorescent troffers were replaced with a combination of downlights and pendant fixtures. The existing flat ceiling tiles were replaced with coffered panels that complement the building’s Mission Revival architecture.
A Coffered Ceiling Calms the Room
The new ceiling panels were, according to Associate Director of Facilities Management John Deeb, “a plaster-surface architectural tile.” Coupled with a terrazzo floor, hard walls, and extensive glazing, the Campus Center had very lively acoustics that made hearing difficult during many events.
Acoustical consultant James A. Good, principal of Veneklasen Associates, Santa Monica, CA, tested the room and suggested changing the ceiling to something with better sound-absorbing properties. Deeb searched for an acoustic ceiling replacement eventually selected thermoformed Ceilume panels, which provide a noise reduction coefficient (NRC) of 0.85, according to the company.
“We were lucky enough to find a style that looked like the tile that was there already, the only difference being it had pinholes and insulation backing.” The chosen style, Stratford, offered a three-dimensional panel perforated and backed with Ceilume’s propriety, sound-dampening insulation.
Despite looking very similar to the original ceiling, the new addition produced “a marked difference in the acoustics of the space,” recalls Deeb. “It solved 70-75% of the acoustic problem. The ceiling made a big difference.”
The coffered Stratford design adds a note of elegance and formality to the room, and provides much needed eye relief in the wide, low-ceiling space. The thermoformed panels are durable, stain resistant, washable and do not support the growth of mold or mildew adding to lower maintenance costs for the university. They are also recyclable, and available with up to 98% recycled material content, making them an environmentally responsible choice overall.
Saving a Space from Noise and Time
The noisy acoustics in the room had previously limited the types of activities that could be held there. Since the replacement of the ceiling panels, however, the room has been used for banquets, conferences, and other special events, and is sometimes subdivided into multiple classroom spaces. The university was even able to hold Mass there while the campus chapel was being renovated. The new ceiling supports all these activities both acoustically and aesthetically and allows the space to return to its role as a focal point of campus life.