College Hits High Note with Acoustics

Mesa Community College’s re-dedication to music and the arts gave birth to a new performing arts center, acoustically fine-tuned with an inner and outer shell of sound-reflective masonry.


The transformation of the Mesa Community College (MCC) Performing Arts Center began when the college purchased the Harkins Movie Theatre, a vacant movie house built in 1979, to drive student interest in the arts and offer a broad range of musical, dance and theatrical performances. Designed by Jones Studio of Phoenix, the $10.3 million, multi-purpose facility, opened as the MCC Performing Arts Center in 2014. This rebirth and rededication into the arts found the center in need of some acoustic fine-tuning, with inner and outer shells of sound-reflective masonry.


Serving as the project’s lead designer, Brian Farling, AIA and a Principal at Jones Studio, modeled the center’s architecture on the creative re-purposing of cherished songs and a deep respect of the Sonoran Desert.


Comprising the center’s inner and outer shell the variety of masonry was chosen both for structure and finish. For example, the architectonics of the new performance hall were defined by two separate enclosure shells and a steel frame. The exterior shell is a composition of exposed masonry and raked, unpainted cement stucco over metal stud framing. The second is an interior exposed masonry enclosure that defines the primary acoustic volume of the hall. Inside, the theater is embedded in acoustical-enhancing masonry.


Oldcastle Architectural’s Echelon brand, Trenwyth Trendstone walls in the Black Canyon color pattern, support symphony, choir, band, jazz, percussion and voice. It also blends into the design scheme with the outer walls’ Architectural CMUs in Black Integral Color and Standard Gray.

The sound chamber was also designed by Farling so that its Echelon Trendstone ground-face masonry units would strategically bump from the walls and serve as an excellent sound reflector. Moving north along the side walls, the “bumps” change from a module of five masonry units wide by five units tall, all the way down to a single 8-ft. × 8-ft. × 16-ft. offsetting in and out to create small bumps. This variation in size allows for the smoother surfaces, or large out croppings, along the front sidewalls to provide stronger early reflections that improve clarity. The smaller bumps along the rear sidewalls offer more diffuse reflections to enhance sound envelopment. The side walls of the hall were also scalloped in a series of convex curves to ensure sound waves splay evenly throughout the audience chamber.

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