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Acoustical Wall Panel Systems

William L. Shannon, Editor

William L. Shannon, Editor of CISCA

Why Not Eliminate The Ceiling?

for the November / December 2007 Issue, CISCA's Interior Construction Magazine

For the uninitiated, this seems to be a very logical question. Eliminating a ceiling will save all kinds of money! Think of the increased volume of the space! Wow, it will be so much more efficient to maintain the space and access the various mechanical, electrical and life safety elements of the building! It will look great!

Well, all of these arguments sound plausible, until one takes the time to really analyze the many benefits of a suspended acoustical ceiling system.

First, let's recognize that there are myriad potential choices for a suspended ceiling system - mineral tile, steel, aluminum, wood, fabric and gypsum, to name a few. Within each classification there are numerous price levels and design statements. There are flat, curved, coffered, floating, sound absorbing and sound reflecting systems; choices to fit virtually any design statement.

Why were suspended ceilings developed in the first place? Why install a suspended ceiling if spaces without them are so wonderful?

Let's go back to the beginning of the modern suspended acoustical ceiling industry, probably the early 1950s. World War II had just ended; industry had spent the past years focusing almost entirely on the war effort. It was time for the entrepreneurial spirit of the United States to again focus upon a dynamic national economy.

The development of many new business opportunities resulted in an unprecedented commercial building boom. In conjunction with the boom, owners, designers and architects were fast becoming more sophisticated consumers. They began to recognize that the comfort of building inhabitants would lead to more efficiency, resulting in more profits.

For the first time designers were actively considering lighting, air quality, temperature, privacy and the need for acoustical correction in new construction. What had been primarily a remedial industry was becoming mainstream.

The first suspended acoustical ceilings offered a number of benefits to designers, owners and occupants:

  • Attractive plenum to hide mechanical, electrical and life safety components
  • Framed suspension system to organize mechanical, electrical, life safety and acoustical components, while offering easy access to the support components above
  • Reduced maintenance and cleaning of occupied space
  • Reduced volume of space with reduced heating and cooling costs
  • Enhanced light reflectance for visual comfort in the occupied space

The first suspended acoustical ceilings were relatively rudimentary, but they offered the first modern approach to mechanically enhanced spaces.

From this modest beginning of our industry, there has been a proliferation of new and exciting products from both a visual and performance approach.

Recently, some members of the design community have begun designing large commercial office spaces without suspended ceiling systems. There are several reasons given for this approach:

  • The cost of a suspended acoustical ceiling
  • The exciting, modern, futuristic look of open mechanical components
  • More flexibility within the space
  • LEED points gained

Some of these new designs are exciting, particularly in well-planned high volume spaces where the design team has taken the time and resources to include high end roof deck, mechanical and electrical components, and painted all components that are visually open to occupants. Unfortunately, many of these new designs simply eliminate the ceiling and expose the unfinished deck and other components.

CISCA will soon publish an independent study comparing spaces with suspended ceilings vs. spaces without suspended ceilings, examining initial construction costs as well as annual operating costs. We believe our industry will benefit tremendously from the relatively startling results.

Members of CISCA include all segments of our industry: manufacturers, contractors, distributors, independent manufacturers' representatives and service sector members. It is up to us as leaders in our industry to be prepared to discuss these facts with our clients. Architects, designers, engineers, owners and occupants of these commercial spaces have to be reminded Why They Need a Suspended Acoustical Ceiling!

Be prepared to discuss these issues with your client. You are doing them a favor. If they build a space without a suspended acoustical ceiling, it will only be a matter of time before one of us is called in to help solve their acoustical problem!

William L. Shannon CSI, CISCA
President of Shannon Corporation
Recipient of the 2004 De Gelleke Award

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