Winner: 2008 Construction Excellence Awards: Silver (Acoustical Solutions, Central Region)

Sycamore Sound Solution

A New Kansas City Auditorium Benefits from an Acoustically Efficient Cube Ceiling

In 1955, Harry S. Truman created the first Presidential Library to establish a place where all people could access and research papers, books, and historical materials that related to the former President. Located in the President's hometown of Independence, MO, and constructed under the Presidential Libraries Act, the Harry S. Truman Library is one of twelve Presidential libraries operated by the federal government.

On April 6, 2008, the Kansas City Library unveiled the Truman Forum Auditorium. Located at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main Street, Kansas City, the Truman Forum Auditorium has 222 fixed seats, two conference rooms and an exhibit space.

Absorbing Reverberation

This state-of-the-art auditorium and meeting venue is highlighted with a one-of-a-kind Monolithic Wood Cube Ceiling from 9Wood, Inc., Springfield, OR. The ceilings were engineered and produced to an acoustically and architecturally demanding specification, while capturing a true piece of President Truman himself — his favorite wood, American Sycamore.

The Truman Forum Auditorium serves as a central gathering place for numerous events, presentations, performances and guest speakers. With such a wide range of uses, the challenge was to produce auditorium ceilings with quality acoustics that could deliver clear audibility to each audience member.

One aspect of designing good acoustics for the auditorium involved absorbing excess sound reverberations. This would improve the clarity of the sound for the audience. To achieve this desired outcome, the architect called upon 9Wood to supply the specific acoustical properties and aesthetics associated with its Monolithic Wood Cube Ceiling system.

The cube ceiling assemblies were factory assembled with hook clips for drop-in attachment to wooden runners. A trim closure was provided to define ceiling boundary. Main runners installed 2 feet on center, suspended by hanger wires secured to factory installed screw-eyes.

“The architect incorporated an intriguing usage of lights above the wood cubes to create a cloud-like presence as they shine through the cube cells," says Michael Roemen, Assistant Sales Manager, 9Wood. “This integration is different than the standard practice of dropping light fixtures through the ceiling and was done deliberately to give a dramatic aesthetic."

Panels toward the front of the auditorium were slanted upward and away from the stage to create the look of a “vent." Within this vent, the slanted panels allowed for stage-lighting fixtures to be neatly hidden. The change in plane also gave a welcome break to the 5,800 sq. ft., monolithic, cube ceiling surface.

American Sycamore

The most intriguing aspect of this project is the incorporation one of President Truman's favorite tree – the American Sycamore. The cube ceiling is made of solid, clear, mixed grain American Sycamore.

"It was the first time we used American Sycamore, because it's not typically a finish material," says Roemen. “Adding to the challenge was the architect's spectrum of color variation allowed. We had to cull out all material that fell outside that range." Due to a high degree of color variation, American Sycamore tends not to be a wood species of choice by architects or members of the woodworking industry. American Sycamore does not fit into the typical hardwood groups, which are easily categorized White vs. Natural. Thus, it was hard to define the grading standards for the architectural woodwork on this project. Nevertheless, after regular communication with the architect and hand-selecting light sapwood boards, 9Wood was able to build a wood cube system with a minimal variation in color contrast.

Another challenge was the multiple, one-off, curved trims required throughout the project. Since American Sycamore is not available as a veneer, these serpentineshaped trim pieces were constructed using natural Maple veneer. All curved trim pieces used at the Truman Forum Auditorium were engineered and constructed to fit the exact dimensions of specific locations. "The project forced us to develop products that could be used on the tight-radiused trims at the perimeters," says Jayson Hayes, 9Wood Production Lead for the Truman Forum Auditorium. “One radii was 2' and several one-offs were under 10'. We took the valuable knowledge gained and have applied it on projects since."

In the end, the Truman Forum Auditorium has great acoustics and a visually appealing cube ceiling. The cube ceiling is sure to benefit Truman Forum Auditorium patrons for many years to come.

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