ICE Design recently undertook the acoustic design of the dome-shaped courtroom in the new Supreme Court complex in Wellington. The room’s 3D elliptical profile provided strong early design challenges as its surfaces would cause sound to focus at many room locations. This focusing creates audibly uncomfortable sound effects with speech for both talkers and listeners. As speech is the room’s primary purpose, focussing would have caused grave problems for court proceedings.
Using acoustic absorption alone to solve this problem would have rendered the space too “dead” and lacking the necessary sense of space and grandeur for New Zealand’s highest court. In response to our recommendation for strong diffusion with some absorption, and inspired by the twirls of cones produced by the Kauri, NZ’s famous ancient native tree, architects Warren and Mahoney developed a solution with spiral- wrapped bands of diamond shaped and angled timber panels located at the key focussing regions. Even the skylight provides acoustic diffusion, consisting of a series of angled glass blades, arranged in a floral motif.
ICE Design also designed and commissioned the audio-visual technology throughout the complex, including an ultra-intelligible sound system, which uses eight bespoke beam-steered line-array loudspeakers.
The result is not only an extraordinary architectural achievement, but also a very well sounding room with speech having extremely natural sound and high intelligibility for all listeners.