Case Study: Arts Commons

About This Project

One of the largest multi-venue arts centres in Canada, Arts Commons spans a city block, including two heritage buildings, in downtown Calgary. All told, the centre comprises five theatres, numerous rehearsal rooms, offices, meeting spaces, a costume shop, set shop, cafe, central box office, and the Jack Singer Concert Hall, a 2,000-seat shoebox-style hall that’s recognized for its excellent music acoustics.


Every year, Arts Commons hosts over 1,800 performances and events, for example, theatre, concerts, dance, readings, public forums, art exhibits, and more. The facility is open to the public and home to six resident companies including the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Theatre Calgary, and Alberta Theatre Projects, among others.


Scope of services

Arts Commons opened in 1985, and as it reached its third decade, wear and tear began to take its toll.

In 2015,  Williams Engineering brought together a team of consultants from across Canada to conduct a comprehensive building condition assessment. BKL provided acoustical expertise to the project and assessed room acoustics, ambient noise levels, and sound isolation between spaces for every venue at Arts Commons.


To complete its assessment, BKL reviewed available architectural drawings and carried out an on-site evaluation, taking measurements in each venue, analyzing data, and sharing findings with stakeholders in a detailed report. BKL assessed existing room acoustics and background noise levels, and investigated some specific concerns shared by Arts Commons user groups. For example, the centre was planning to replace the seats in Jack Singer Concert Hall, so BKL offered advice on seat selection.


After measuring and analyzing each venue and rehearsal space, BKL identified noise isolation problems in several rooms, verifying reports from Arts Commons user groups. BKL’s acoustical engineers identified transmission paths—that is, how noise was getting in—and made venue-by-venue recommendations for the best ways to fix the problems. Often, this meant adding acoustical treatments, or replacing worn door seals or missing wall or ceiling partitions.


Another acoustical issue was high background, or ambient, noise levels. For some spaces, higher background levels were due to noise transfer between spaces and from outside, something that would be solved by improvements to noise isolation. For others, noise from either HVAC systems or refrigeration equipment was an issue. Still others were affected by a combination of both. BKL’s acoustics team made detailed suggestions to limit background noise levels, and provided noise criteria for the HVAC system.


For any performance venue or rehearsal room, reverberation time is one of the most important room acoustic parameters, yet ideal reverberation times depend on the type of performance. For instance, reverberation times that are ideal for music aren’t necessarily suitable for dramatic performances. Performance spaces at Arts Commons host a mix of events—amplified and acoustic concerts, lectures, theatre, for example—so the acoustics had to support a range of activities.


During its assessment of reverberation times, BKL found that, aside from the Jack Singer Concert Hall, many of the spaces were well-suited for drama but too dry for music. Where this was an issue, the acoustics team recommended replacing carpeting with hardwood floors in order to reduce excessive high-frequency sound absorption and provide ideal acoustics for a greater variety of performances.


Project Benefits

BKL’s analysis, as part of a wider building condition assessment, helped Arts Commons better understand the acoustical state of its performance spaces. By presenting findings in a detailed report, organized by venue, BKL made it easy to review its recommendations. This information helped the client plan for future funding initiatives and renovations, and answer the concerns posed by its user groups with space-specific data.


arts commons building condition assessment

Project Name:

Arts Commons Building Condition Assessment

Year Completed:


Total Area:

560,665 square feet

Case Studies, Cultural
Building Services Noise & Vibration, Music Acoustics, Sound Isolation, Theatre Acoustics