There are times when the biggest challenges in a project are right in front of you. This is a story of why you visit a site before completing a scope of work to observe the existing conditions.

The project was in a significant-sized residence (25,000 square feet, $35 million in mid-90’s dollars) and was comprised of three theaters and a music performance room that opened onto a patio. Fortunately, the HVAC (two large chillers) were located in the side of a hill, inside a bunker we designed 100 yards away. Then there was a resonant powder room located right off the front entryway of the home.

Let me say that again: the resonant powder room…

When I first visited the site to observe our design work and existing construction conditions, the house was already well along. Much of one side of the walls already had drywall or plaster installed, but was not conditioned. Located at the apex of the entryway was a small ellipsoid-shaped guest half-bath powder room.

Inside, the “thunder mug” was centered on one of the ellipsoid’s foci formed by the hard, reflective, smooth plaster surface.


I mentioned to the architect, systems integrator and contractor that this was a significant problem that needed to be addressed.  They didn’t see whatever could be the problem. So, to demonstrate, as they stood outside the bathroom in the entryway, I proceeded to generate loud farting noises with my mouth at the apex of the powder room.  The resonant characteristics of the geometry significantly amplified the lower audio range, clearly making my point.

The lady of the house chose that moment to visit the site to meet the newly hired acoustical consultant (me).  As I backed out of the powder room and turned around, I was met with a wry smile as she introduced herself, asking why I was in the bathroom making all those dreadful noises when she thought I was here for the theaters.  I suggested that, as she had witnessed, there might be a significant problem with the acoustics of this bathroom, merely from normal use. And, although it was not in my current scope of work, I would be pleased to recommend a fix.  She was appalled at the thought of this anomaly causing embarrassment for guests and, on the spot, expanded our scope of work to develop a whole-house acoustical review.

Sometimes the smallest things are right in front of you and present the biggest challenges. And it does pay to walk the site and engage with both your partners and the client.