The clash between noise and silence is none too different to the fight between heritage and modernity, but the Rae Building at Newington College bridges the divide of both with an acoustically sealed, visually transparent twin wall cavity façade.

A structure borne of the contemporary, the new facility is designed by Budden Nangle Michael & Hudson Architects (BNMH) to be the new centrepiece of the Sydney private school.

Whilst it faced the possibility of being drowned out by noise from the nearby Kingsford-Smith Airport, the building is today able to shield its occupants from the roars of overhead airplanes, as well as sit comfortably with the existing landscape.

According to the architects, visual transparency was essential in reinforcing the building’s role as the centre of learning at Newington. At the same time, they wanted to integrate the past and present, and therefore sought to create gentle reflections of the historically significant and no less grand Thomas Rowe Founders Building on the new façade.

These design aims, coupled with practical noise insulation targets, were achieved by the use of non-tinted and non-reflective external glazing and a wide acoustically sealed cavity. All façade glazing contained acoustic interlayers, with Viridian V-Lam 12.5mm installed externally, and 10.5mm utilised internally.

“The façade design balanced the conflicting requirements for transparency, acoustic control of the aircraft noise environment, and the necessity to exceed stringent energy efficiency targets beyond the basic criteria of the BCA,” says Ray Hudson, project architect at BNMH. 

“Specialised thermal and performance modelling was undertaken to understand the façade’s thermal performance characteristics and the manner in which any potential of condensation could be properly addressed.”

The cavity was ventilated with spill air from the air conditioning system through acoustically lined transfer ducts and a controlled exhaust at the top of the canopy. This system helps to control temperatures within the twin wall cavity, maintain positive air pressures and prevent condensation issues.

Clear Low-E internal glazing with integral solar tracking, aluminium louvre system from Horiso also contributed to the success of the façade by providing effective shading, and maximising views into and from the building via varying horizontal and vertical alignments to the north, east and western profiles.

Achieving good acoustics was also important for internal environments, especially since too much noise – although not necessarily a major disturbance – could impede the learning or teaching process.

Slotted and perforated timber panel linings with integral black fabric acoustic insulation have been used extensively within the building to meet modern educational standards. Polyester insulation overlays vary depending on the location of the walls and ceilings to which they are applied.

Regupol resilient underlay was also incorporated to the terrazzo paved areas over the high quality, acoustically-sealed high-quality lecture theatre: do not disturb, nor be disturbed.

Additionally, sound-rated plasterboard linings in single and multiple layer installations were employed throughout the building, selected in conjunction with acoustic consultants PKA Acoustic Consulting.  

In some cases, double or staggered stud framing configurations with integral polyester acoustic insulation and acoustically sealed perimeter abutments have been employed.

Even internal stormwater and plumbing stacks had to be noise insulated, with the Pyrotek 452C acoustic pipe insulation ensuring the sustainability workings of the school do not interfere with classes.

“All products were selected to ensure a high quality internal acoustic environment supporting Newington College’s educational program, which encourages flexible self-motivated research and learning in dynamic group and individual scenarios so that the college’s students do ‘discover what’s possible’,” says Hudson.

The architects have further proven that acoustics can have design merit, with Autex ‘Quiet Space’ wall linings used in a number of areas for a flexible Velcro and pin-compatible display, general decorative effect, as well as to generate acoustic absorbency to wall planes where required.

A considered product palette has therefore created ideal acoustic conditions between and within spaces at Newington College’s Rae Building, enhancing the learning process in a variety of ways. Notably, the advanced twin wall cavity façade has ensured the building’s location is not a limiting factor to the potential of its activities and students, and together with the other lightweight acoustic elements, offer future flexibility to constantly meet changing educational demands.