VarVac Wall

Role: Research Assistant
Principle Researchers: Marc Swackhamer and Blair Satterfield
Collaboraters: Ashley Eusebio, David Horner, Abby Merliss, Kevin Groenke, Justin Kindelspire

Anyone who has ever walked through a parking garage knows that large hard-flat surfaces reflect sound. The echo experienced in these hard spaces are due to that reflection. The more hard surfaces within a closed space, the more acoustically “live” that space will be. This is experienced as “echo” and as “feedback.” The main office at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture was designed by Cerny and Associates Architects in the mid-century modernist style. The designers created an open space made of brick, glass and cast-in-place concrete. The resulting office is composed almost entirely of hard acoustically reflective surfaces that result in an extremely live space. This posed difficulties for individuals working in the office. 

During the summer of 2013, the school decided to renovate the office, and in doing so address problems ranging from seating, storage, display and acoustics. A team of faculty members and students were tasked with designing the space and took on specific aspects of the problem. To address acoustics a new skin was proposed for the brick wall behind the main reception desk. The goal was to mediate the sound in the space to create an environment more conducive to the work of the staff.

The solution was to create a vacuum-formed topographical surface that would disperse or absorb sound in specific locations. The entire surface diffuses sound along its length, mediating the problem of focused directional sound. Pockets of “quiet” are located in specific locations (like the area behind the reception desk) to more completely eliminate ambient noise and create a space more conducive to intimate conversations