Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Project Case Study: South of Market, San Francisco

PMI is a team of highly organized and seasoned professionals who sweat the details. In fact, we’ve been known to spend dozens of hours on wiring diagrams alone! Our services run the gamut from room design and layout through to audio + video commissioning and calibration.  We offer excellent project management to orchestrate any level of process, from the simplest project to the most complex.

Having designed and engineered more than 500 purpose-built and multi-purpose entertainment spaces, we've pretty much seen it all, and yet we continually encounter new challenges along the way. Our expertise lies in the detail with which we approach each project, and the many tools and resources we’ve developed to fulfill our mission of “doing it the right way.” 

This project is a sleek, modern home with an industrial flair in the trendy South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco. The interior of the home feels cool and spacious, not what you’d expect from condensed city-living. The bones of this home are a highly complex, high-end commercial-grade infrastructure. Even though it’s a residence, it has a very organized and mechanical structure – perfect in every way.

The homeowners love to entertain and wanted to create a space that would include everything from a screening room, a live performance space, an art gallery and workshop, a recording studio, and dance club. Giving new meaning to the term “multi-purpose room,” the space has been designed to go from a sit-down banquet to a raving disco with remote-controlled ease. We call it NASA meets rave!

Because the house is basically a steel and concrete structure. That means that any sound hitting sheet rock that's attached steel radiates throughout the entire building structure. The first challenge became how to take turn the building a great sounding entertainment space that can also maintain sound comfort in adjoining rooms. Another challenge was sound containment from the outside area, as well as keeping the rather noisy outside traffic from seeping into the space. Achieving high level of sound isolation and creating an extraordinary environment involved a multitude of painstaking details.

Working with builder Larry Christiani, PMI created a highly detailed plan set, and four drafts later, we were ready to start the build-out.

With the many structural materials used in this building – including corrugated aluminum pan deck, red steel beams, tension cable – the visible eye cannot really see that the finished architectural ceiling is actually flown several feet below the structural lid of the room – and it’s done so with a resiliently mounted sound isolated ceiling. Painstaking care was taken with each and every one of the penetrations into the ceiling, including the down-lighting, sprinklers, cables, and large format speaker mounts. 

The client wanted a clean aesthetic and we settled on a wood paneled look; had we used regular wood it would have created a giant echo chamber. We specified Murano acoustical wood paneling which is porous to sound and allowed us to install combinations of four-inch-thick absorption panels and diffusion strips behind some of the areas to optimize the reverberant field.

The windows are double layer three-quarter inch plate glass

Plumbing isolation columns were used throughout inside the walls in order to reduce rattling from vibrations in spots where metal touches metal  - it’s all in the details!

Acoustically-rated ductwork is installed throughout, in order to reduce sound transmission through the HVAC system.    

In this room, speakers play at an incredibly high level of sound pressure. The surround channel speakers are housed at ceiling-level, attached to a truss that motors up and down on flown cables, which can be lowered to approximately seven feet off the floor so they’re positioned at the optimum position during a film presentation. There are also sound reinforcement speakers in the corners for dance music/nightclub speakers.

Directivity of the speakers – given their different functions – was carefully selected to ensure that the direct and reflected soundfield ratios were optimized for the overall acoustical character of the perforated wood wall schemes. Because of the range of uses for the multi-purpose room, digital signal processing and channel routing were implemented with a multichannel BSS Audio processor. The sound system configuration and performance flexibly convert to adapt to the room usage, all seamlessly controlled by the Crestron automation system. The ceiling area conceals deep absorption for broadband control of the sound reflection decay time.

Multiple subwoofers were installed in the ceiling to distribute multiple points of bass radiation for smoother standing waves. Shallow profile subwoofers were flown from the ceiling on vibration isolation spring hangers.


PMI commissioned Triad CinemaPlus speakers behind the screen. The screen has 2-way masking plus a fabric cover that comes down to protect the screen when not in use. Wood is Murano Acoustics paneling, wood which is acoustically open to let sound go through it and into the absorptive materials behind it.


Inside the big window that faces the street outside, we engineered a motorized set of vertical blinds that are all black on one side to shut out the light, and are all white on the other side so the client can project still or moving images onto the window.

PMI also designed the rest of the home to include audio-video playback in all of the indoor and outdoor spaces so it was important to acoustically design and tune these rooms, as well.

Ultimately, this project gave the client exactly what they wanted: a truly multi-purpose entertainment space with a high level of function, flexibility, and style!

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