Situated on the fourth floor of City Center Square in downtown Kansas City, Mo., Solar Spectrum’s office supports continued growth in distributing solar panel systems. Its modern, open office design reflects a positive culture of openness, interaction and energy. Throughout its workplace, acoustic ceiling systems reinforce the company’s brand and culture, and enhance visual interest, sustainable practices, employee comfort and productivity.

The 40-year-old building is a cast-in-place concrete tower originally designed by Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill. Hoefer Wysocki Architecture designed Solar Spectrum’s new offices. James Evrard, associate at Hoefer Wysocki and project architect, says, “In the early ’90s, the previous tenant built out the space very simply with tight enclosed offices along the exterior wall and gypsum ceilings. Opening up the space was a lot of fun. Returning to the concrete waffle slabs first imagined by SOM is the stuff of architectural dreams.”

Project Notes

Solar Spectrum LLC, City Center Square, Kansas City, Mo.,

Owner: Solar Spectrum LLC, Oakland, Calif.

Architect and interior designer: Hoefer Wysocki Architecture; Leawood, Kansas;

Acoustics specialists: Rockfon; Chicago;

General contractor: Centric Projects LLC; Kansas City, Missouri;

Installing contractor: Wilko Construction Inc.; Grain Valley, Mo.

Distributor: Sierra Building Products; Kansas City, Mo.

Rockfon ceiling systems: Rockfon Alaska and Island acoustic stone wool ceiling products, and Chicago Metallic 1200 Series ceiling suspension system

Photographer: Chad Jackson Photography

Polished gray concrete floors complement the exposed concrete and convey a sense of functional industriousness and contemporary style. The firm describes the space as “composed around an open central hub that overlooks the adjacent four-story atrium. This central hub links social areas and meeting spaces in an open and interactive environment, and provides easy access to work areas.” Yellow and orange accent white walls, exposed steel pipes, cubicle framing and enclosed, metal-clad meeting rooms.

Optimized Acoustics for Open Offices

“As we opened up the space, we also were taking away everything that absorbs sound and showcasing all the reflective surfaces. We needed something more than carpet to manage the acoustics,” says Evrard. “We knew of various standard acoustic ceiling clouds, but weren’t satisfied in what we were finding.”

Evrard and Stephani Chaffin, an interior designer with Hoefer Wysocki, contacted Rockfon as they were working on Solar Spectrum’s final steps in the office fit-out.

“They said they were under ‘a super short deadline’ and asked for our assistance with a lay-out for the free-hanging, sound-absorptive, frameless ceiling islands that would strategically optimize acoustics for the open office environment,” remembers Gary Madaras, PhD, ASA, INCE, Assoc. AIA, who serves as an acoustics specialist at Rockfon and leads its Optimized Acoustics initiative.

“The design team selected our stone wool ceiling products for their smooth appearance, their modular sizes, and their fit within the project’s budget and timeline. But most importantly, it is the high acoustic performance of our products,” emphasizes Jim Frasca, Rockfon district sales manager.

“Open office environments usually strive to promote collaboration,” says Madaras. “However, the potential distraction of escalating and echoing noise may unintentionally cause the opposite result. It can be a complicated balance.”

Madaras continues, “I remember a conversation with Hoefer Wysocki’s project architect James Evrard and the owner’s representative. They wanted to ensure that the open office areas would not be too quiet. It was important to them that the young salespeople feed off an energetic atmosphere. The acoustics could not be too dead or dampen the collective sales synergy. This added yet another pretty significant design challenge. The solution had to fall in between too loud and too quiet. With all of these parameters, we had to work smart and fast to identify a solution that was just right.”

The approved solution selected by Hoefer Wysocki and Solar Spectrum uses a combination of more traditional, rectilinear island array layouts along the sides of the triangular floor plan and a more free-form, yet organized, layout of the islands elsewhere.

For the free-form island layouts, Rockfon proposed a “sun pod” arrangement with a square island at the center encircled by additional islands. “Seeming to radiate out from the center, these additional islands are suspended with a slight overlap on staggered, horizontal planes,” Madaras explains. “The design is carried into other areas of the project, such as in the multi-purpose room and kitchen/break room.” A more traditional, rectilinear layout of the Rockfon® Island™ was used in other parts of the floor plan.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things from the project about the way it looks and functions,” says Clayton Norvell, associate superintendent at general contractor Centric Projects.

Evrard adds, “During construction, you would notice as soon as the Rockfon Islands were installed. It made such a difference in how loud the space was.”

Stress-free, Sustainable Solutions

In total, Sierra Building Products supplied Wilko Construction with 13,100 square feet Rockfon Island, plus 2,000 square feet Rockfon Alaska acoustic stone wool ceiling panels. Wilko’s foreman Kenny Sikes, along with one apprentice, installed the entire system for both phases of Solar Spectrum’s build out.

In Sikes’ words, “Hanging it was no problem at all and went fairly fast. The templates Rockfon provided were simple and easy to use. I’ve been hanging ceilings for more than 30 years and thought it was great.”

The modular sizes assist in making installation as stress-free and as fast as possible. The 2-by-2-foot Alaska panels used in the second level enclosed offices and hallway are installed within Rockfon Chicago Metallic 1200 15/16-inch exposed ceiling suspension system. The islands for the open office and common areas were provided in 4-by-4 and 4-by-6 feet sizes and hang from the structural concrete above them.

“It was a very quick product install. The islands took some minor adjustments to get just right,” says Norvell. “The crew was able to do an entire ceiling in just a few weeks.”

For those working beneath these ceilings, wellness, sustainability and energy considerations have both priority and business value. The solar energy generated by an average 6 kW Solar Spectrum Energy System during 20 years of use is estimated to offset about 118 metric tons of CO2.

Within its Kansas City office, the smooth, white surface of the ceiling panels and islands reflects 86 percent of the light from the exterior windows into the office interior. Maximizing natural light minimizes the need for electric lighting and, in turn, can reduce overall energy use and associated costs.

“The client was very pleased with the way the ceilings perform, look and fit their workspace,” concludes Frasca.