A custom-designed acoustic solution by Autex added a strikingly attractive element to the La Posada dining hall interiors at the University of New Mexico (UNM).

Designed by Vigil & Associates, the remodelling project at the university dining hall not only brought new life to the 50-year-old building, but also won the Honor Award - Interior Architecture from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

The dining hall, which operates 24/7 and serves up to 5,000 meals a day, is also used as a meeting place, recreational area, and for study, making it imperative that the space had good acoustics. 

The striking Frontier acoustic fin system is a standout feature of the dining hall, with Autex’s custom-designed drop ceiling panels and vibrant Falling Water colour scheme drawing praise from both the university and the architects. 

UNM architect/director Amy Coburn said the Frontier system met the university’s expectations, both in performance as well as appearance.

Project architect Vicente Castillo of Vigil & Associates said the Frontier system helped add “the defining element” of the interior space. 

“It provides a soft organic counterpoint to the hard-edged existing conditions of the building while delivering acoustic absorption,” he said.

Tom Gage, account manager for Autex North America, said the AIA award was important for the project overall and was especially pleasing for Autex. “We have a special focus on the education sector with other schools using Frontier, but this is one of our bigger projects in recent times,” he said. 

“It required special design and customised engineering by the Autex team and we enjoyed the challenge. The result is very effective.”

To address the challenge of covering varying ceiling levels, Autex designed and engineered a customised drop ceiling that set the acoustic fins at a 45-degree angle as they transitioned from the full height of the dining hall mezzanine down to the single-storey dining and amenity areas that surrounded the central atrium. 

For the installation, ESA Construction used a temporary T-grid support system and jigs to align the acoustic fins along the curve. The design also called for the ceiling-mounted acoustic fins to extend in horizontal wave patterns into the atrium area to enhance the system’s integration into the overall scheme.

“Autex was able to accommodate unique aspects of the design concept, which were outside the typical product intentions,” Castillo said. While performance and impact were two key elements, Frontier also met the limitations of a tight budget by providing an affordable solution.

Frontier acoustic fins are made from at least 65 per cent post-consumer material, making it an environment-friendly product that pleased the client as well as the architects. 

“Our office… strives to use renewable and recyclable materials wherever possible,” Castillo said. “We look forward to new and interesting ways to use Autex in future.”