On seeing the horizontally positioned boards of solid American tulipwood, staggered in width, flowing around the stage in the Performance Theatre at Freshwater Senior Campus in Australia, you might correctly assume that this was not the creation of a standard acoustic paneling company. The design was conceived and created by young furniture designer Ben Percy from 3 cubic metres of American tulipwood.
Percy deliberately sought out a timber which would provide variation in colour and tone to create interest in the backdrop to the 300-seat theatre. The flashes of purple and black in some sections of the wall and mottled grey that runs through others has led to stunning results and, according to Percy, is one of the most talked about elements of the design. The tulipwood has been finished with a transparent oil to ensure the natural colour remains the key feature. The proven sustainability of American tulipwood was also a key factor in the choice of material, the designer commented:
“I think it matters that we embrace the importance of creating designs that endure beyond a single generation – especially in an environment such as this, where young Australians are forming values and ideas for their future”
Unfamiliar with the technical requirements of acoustic paneling, Percy’s first step was to do what he describes as a ‘ton of research’. This led to the wavy surface texture inherent in the design to minimise flat surfaces and break sound waves to reduce reverberation when the stage is in use. Percy admits that the project forced him out of his comfort zone
“I wanted to create something that referenced my background as a furniture designer. I drew on techniques from furniture design rather than paneling, such as laminating and bending the timber”.
“I was happy with how easy the timber was to machine and work with” Percy adds. “I had considered other timbers such as American hard maple. It would have looked beautiful, but I think would have been too hard for this design”.
The stage has provided an immediate improvement in the acoustics in the theatre, which is regularly used for concerts and screenings at the school and is also made available to external companies for conferences and speaking events.