Church Acoustics Design

    An important part of building a new parish hall or church sanctuary is an acoustical design program to develop the finishes and furnishings for those spaces.

    For a parish hall, the acoustical environment must be conducive to the social events that provide for fellowship. There must be suffiecient acoustic absorption in the finish materials to reduce the loud reverberation that can interfere with conversation during parish events. Also, the room must be compatible with uses that can range from youth group events to weddings. Also at some point, a dedicated sound reinforcement system may be considered.

    For a sanctuary, it is essential that the acoustical environment be compatible with the style of worship at the church, to successfully advance the church’s ministry. The sonic envelopment of the congregation is a key element in creating a positive church-going experience that communicates the message of church, while enhancing the sense of community among church members. This design program will consist of the following steps:

    Construct a computer model of the sanctuary. Once constructed, the model can be used to analyze the relevant natural acoustics characteristics of the sanctuary, including the reverberation time in the hall, clarity and sonic envelopment factors. The acoustical scenarios that must be accounted for in this analysis include the excitation of the natural acoustics of the space by the electronic media system, and also the sound of congregational singing and praise.

    Media sound, of course, may be directed from the pulpit, choir and organ areas at the front of the sanctuary and distributed by a loudspeaker system, while congregational sound will emanate from all of the people who occupy the sanctuary. Accommodation and blending of both sound types is important. If the sanctuary is too reverberant, then the media sound, including sermons, will be muddy and unintelligible. However, if the space has too little reverberation, then church members will feel isolated while singing and lose the sense of community which the church works so hard to build.

    Initially, very simple finish options can be studied to establish baseline conditions. Then, comparisons of possible design options can be made, including selection of materials and installation choices, which can be applied to achieve the desired results. Several design options of similar acoustical performance may be presented for evaluation, including budgetary cost estimates.

    In addition, it is important to insure that there will be minimal noise generated by the mechanical systems in the church, including the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system. This can be analyzed in order to determine its estimated background noise levels. Estimated background noise levels for the HVAC system, based on that analysis are compared to standard criteria for similar church spaces. If the estimated noise level is too high, then design recommendations can be made for the mechanical system, to bring it in line with design criteria. These recommendations can be made in coordination with the architect and mechanical system designer, and supplied to that designer as dimensions and notes for the system drawings.

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