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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish
Washington, DC

Founded in 1712, St. Paul’s Church is the oldest congregation in the District of Columbia. On the occasion of their 290th anniversary the parish undertook the delicate work of a historically-informed renewal, reordering and infrastructure upgrade of their church building. Victorian era renovations were stripped away, uncovering a simpler interior more in keeping with the Georgian-style building. The result is a fine balance between historic-styled furnishings and the modern liturgical needs of the Anglican church.

We were given a challenging goal: ensure that the already good musical acoustics were not harmed by the renovation, enhance chancel acoustics for the choir and new Dobson pipe organ (2004), and also improve intelligibility of the spoken word. We embraced the congregation’s desire to open up the enclosed chancel into a new chapel and a new multipurpose side aisle. This proved to be a win-win solution: the church is visually larger and more engaging as well as acoustically more spacious and reverberant. Choir and organ sound easily projects into the nave directly through the chancel arch and also through side archways providing early lateral reflections essential for the congregation’s sense of musical warmth and envelopment. Musical acoustics were previously judged to be fairly good and are now just superb.

The new “wineglass” high pulpit and tester (a suspended canopy) on the front nave wall proved quite a challenge as we designed an effective but unobtrusive speech reinforcement loudspeaker system. Preliminary computer models showed the ideal loudspeaker height would be in conflict with the pulpit and tester—clearly, the loudspeaker had to move. Our solution was custom “steerable line-array” loudspeakers which precisely cover nave pews from positions high on the front nave wall. Amplified sound of talkers’ voices is synchronized with the natural sound through an innovative DSP-based “level - delay - mixing matrix” and individually routed to all seating areas through loudspeakers in the nave, sanctuary, chapel and side aisle. Sophisticated computer modeling and digital-audio technology gave us the tools to design a very high quality speech-reinforcement sound system in the reverberance of St. Paul’s Church without the need to modify the natural acoustics, and with minimal visual impact.

Noise control and sound isolation advice was also provided for the existing HVAC system.

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