Wednesday, March 7, 2012

PMI Engineers Music & Recording Studio in Mongolia

Dateline: Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

Mongolia is currently experiencing economic growth from its abundant natural resources which include coal and copper, the mining of which accounts for nearly 60% of the country’s exports. Economic experts have reported that Mongolia is set to grow faster than any other economy in the coming years. Luxury retail brands like Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton and Burberry have opened in the city’s capital, Ulaan Baatar - as have the likes of Kempinski and Westin hotels - and luxury car brands like Mercedes are filling the busy streets and highways.Ulaan Bataar’s cityscape is a mixture of new luxury and high-rise buildings surrounded by construction sites, and tons of traffic.

The growing cityscape of Ulaan Baatar - the curved building on the right is called The Sail

It’s within this booming environment that PMI was contracted to engineer a brand new music and film recording studio. This project started in an empty wing of an old factory building with the client’s desire to create a full-featured multi-purpose center with a large live room, a small tracking room, large and small control rooms, plus drum room, guitar isolation room, vocal room, a video editing suite, and a comfy lounge.

Our client works for a development company that builds luxury golf courses and ski resorts. An avid music fan, his primary aim was to build a world-class studio center in Ulaan Baatar to attract the country’s top-tier talent for recording, and to develop a supportive musical community. 
Left: Commercial neighborhood in Ulaan Baatar | Right: Anthony Grimani with client Suuri in front of government building
PMI was hired to design the layout, acoustics, sound isolation, and noise control of all the studios. We got involved mid-2009 and construction is now nearing completion. In this article, we’ll take you through what’s happened so far with this project, and we invite you to follow our journey as this project unfolds. 
Original exterior of project building is considered "industrial grade"

When the client first contacted PMI back in 2009, they had already spent a considerable sum building and outfitting the space, but this had been done without an engineering plan and the spaces literally had to be demolished to start over. Lesson learned: don’t try a project of this size and complexity without engineering and planning – hire a pro!

PMI came on board and set to work assessing the client’s needs, defining the spaces and their various parameters, and building a comprehensive engineering plan. Some of the issues we had to look at included:
  • Overall inefficient layout of the space
  • Control room in the wrong place
  • Inadequate ventilation
  • Bathroom was in the wrong place (inside the main studio!)
  • Thin brick wall structure was inappropriate for sound containment
  • Plumbing pipes running throughout the building conducted sound and vibration across the rooms
  • Holes in the wall structures leaked sound out to neighboring areas
  • Concrete walls connected to metal pipes were transmitting sound all over the place
  • Double brick walls with grout bridging between them defeated any attempt at sound isolation
One of the challenges was trying to work within a framework that had already been built and not demolish too much of the existing structure. So the biggest question was: how do we intelligently make use of what they’ve already done and improve the design and performance?
The space had previously been a punk rock studio, complete with graffiti and egg cartons on the walls for diffusion!

We were further challenged with trying to work in a country where there was little to no availability of soundproofing materials (and cost-prohibitive to ship from the U.S.). We went about sourcing materials in Asia which we tested – some worked, some did not – and we were able to invent some unique solutions. The sound isolation ceilings all needed spring hangers and we found a gadget in China that worked well instead of the US-made units we would normally have used. We needed mass-loaded vinyl barriers in the walls and found a source of a polymer material in China that did the trick.

The original space had people walking into the main studio from the outside hallway - there was no reception, and no plan for the function and business flow. We reorganized the space to include a reception area, musicians’ lounge, and management offices, with a much more efficient and balanced layout.

Aerial plan view - new entrance and stairs were added to improve customer experience and workflow..

When PMI started on this project, the existing brick walls were touching the metal and sheet rock wall behind them, so the two walls had to be de-coupled to provide sound isolation. The 4-inch brick was also not thick enough for recording studio isolation and there were holes from previous construction mishaps.
This drawing shows our solution for creating separation between the brick and metal/sheet rock walls.
This drawing shows a peel-away view of the how the layered walls and insulation were engineered.

The ceiling structure was comprised of metal trusses which were basically a skeleton holding the roof together throughout the entire space. We had them covered with sound isolated materials and wherever they went through a wall, we created a gap so they wouldn’t touch the wall directly and conduct sound into the walls.

This wall had to be re-worked as it had been improperly built the first time around.
The original bathroom was put in the middle of the live room! It was relocated to the second floor admin area of the studio.

The ventilation system was a challenge in trying to make all the ducts fit through the ceilings and walls. The original ventilation was way too small and inefficient. A second version was way too big and noisy. The contractor didn’t completely follow our plans the first time and had to tear down and rebuild again; he was unfamiliar with sound isolation building practices, so some mistakes were made along the way, like building huge enclosures for the ventilation system that were not needed, and not in the plan! 

The rubber gasketing specified at all the wall junctions we not properly compressed, leaving large gaps. We ended up working closely with the contractor to ensure that everything was built precisely to the specifications we’d created. 

The Main Studio Live Room
The main studio live room was designed to include:
  1. Space large enough for a 30-piece orchestra
  2. Low background noise
  3. Very well behaved acoustical character using deep absorbers and strategically located 2D and 3D diffusers
  4. Ceiling designed in a wave of slats to provide a range of absorption and diffusion 
  5. Adjustable acoustics which can be tuned from relatively dead to pretty high reverb time – this was accomplished using a network of panels that slide in and out of the curved surface coves (see Main Studio photo below) – reverb timing can change from 3 seconds to 1 second

Main room (back view) before PMI design
Main room (back view) completed
Main room (front view) before PMI design
Main room (front view) completed
Ceiling wave slats provide absorption and diffusion

The Control Room 
The control room was designed to support 5.1 channel sound, and we created a good balance of damping and diffusion using sophisticated, high-end 3D diffusers and AMI absorbers - all from MSR's Dimension4™ line of acoustical tuning systems. The AMIs are deep absorbers that have good performance down to low frequency, with high frequency absorption that’s tapered down to prevent dulling down the room too much.
Control room during construction phase
Control room finished - before acoustical tuning systems added
So that's where we're going to end Part 1 of this case study. Check back soon for Part 2 and the completion of this exciting project!

For more info and photos on PMI portfolio projects, please visit our website