By Meredith Fraga | Designer
Sound and light are two forms of energy that dramatically affect how we perceive the world. Without them we could neither hear nor see. For any design project these two elements are always significant, but what happens when each are a primary client priority?
The design of premiere music production school Icon Collective’s new location in Burbank, California, recently completed by IA’s Los Angeles studio, gives top priority to lighting and acoustics, affecting ceiling and wall construction, finishes, doors, windows, and overall design. Implementing acoustics for a space focused on music production is a more intense process than that required for most workplace projects, although the principles remain the same. In simplest terms, minimize reverberation as well as sound leakage from one area to another. Icon also prioritized lighting as a unique way to support function and create a dynamic, inspiring ambiance. Typically, lighting and acoustics are two of the first items to be scaled back for project economy, but here they are emphasized and essential to the project’s success.
Interestingly, during the design process one or the other had to take precedence. The fact that all columns are hidden within walls where possible and room proportions affect acoustics impacted overall planning. Although the proportions and shape of a room do influence the lighting layout, acoustic panel layouts have fairly strict guidelines, so their placement took priority, limiting the number of locations for lighting. At each production lab, for instance, a suspended acoustic cloud does not allow typical overhead lighting. As a solution, the team placed two sconces on the front wall and two track heads adjacent to the overhead cloud above the desk. With this atypical and economical solution, work surfaces are lit from behind the computer, which is best for controlling glare and satisfies Icon’s desire for low lighting levels. This scheme also works well for phone and focus rooms as an effective and economical feature when the user is working on a computer. Lighting from behind a computer or screen is a terrific way to illuminate someone on camera (think of a ring light) during video calls because overhead light can cast shadows on their face.
Although sometimes hidden or dependent on carpet and full height partitions, acoustics at Icon are treated as design features, interjecting interest while serving function. Based on room size, robust acoustic wall panels are mounted at specific locations. The linear nature of the panels creates a rhythm echoed in the lighting fixtures at walls and at the ceiling—an unexpected opportunity to combine acoustics and lighting from a design perspective, providing a cadence throughout that celebrates the function of place as a venue for music production. The abundant use of sconces, replacing traditional overhead lighting, are focal points at walls and meeting rooms that realize Icon’s request for overall low lighting. Also, linear lighting illuminates and forms mandala-inspired shapes that connect back to Icon’s holistic approach to the creative process. Without additional design features, required acoustics and lighting together work towards a sleek design.
We’ve all heard that “form follows function”. When the functional aspects of a project are the priority, they should work to the design’s advantage. Much of the Icon budget was allocated for features you cannot see—ceiling and wall assemblies, some up to two-feet thick. Many rooms are built as a room within a room. All these factors along with parameters set by code presented a myriad of challenges that drove inventive solutions. For example, to maintain ADA required door clearances using a typical door frame size with walls 18-24 inches, multiple partition types form alcoves at doorways. Referencing this feature, the team used accent paint to create a rhythm that activates hallways.
At Icon’s theater you might say form fakes function. While the theater has robust acoustics in both construction and materials, including acoustic panels on all walls and two-inch acoustic ceiling tiles, it does not rely on traditional theater acoustics. Typically, walls in theaters are angled and layered for acoustics. Since there was no clearance for this at Icon, the team mimicked that structure using angled lighting that aligns with the linear lighting concept seen throughout the overall space. Although these design challenges were unique to Icon, all projects have acoustic demands that can be used to advantage as design elements.
It’s easy to become over stimulated these days. Technology and our environment are major culprits. It is the designer’s job to reduce overstimulation and ensure a space for user productivity, wellness, and success. Acoustics and lighting that work in harmony can counter-balance overstimulation. For Icon, the acoustics had to be superlative, but a space with perfect acoustics creates discomfort. Neither underperforming nor overperforming, the acoustics are within a range that meets Icon’s custom criteria. In essence, this is similar to all projects. Sometimes a little background noise is welcomed; sometimes you want a higher acoustic performance. It depends on the space and its use.
Along with excellent acoustics, Icon’s requested lower light levels are the opposite of what traditional office spaces require. Creatives working on music, often using computers and prioritizing their sense of sound, desire lower lighting levels for a balanced atmosphere that allows them to focus without over stimulation. This drove an overall lighting approach that also realized a savings on light fixtures. All rooms have dimmers for user preference, which is an important feature. In general, lower lighting levels are great for some types of spaces, especially phone, huddle, or focus rooms.
By having to prioritize key requirements, the team devised impactful design solutions leading to a more interesting space. Lighting and acoustics are factors on all projects and approaching them creatively can drive design solutions that are elegant, innovative, and cost effective.