Acoustic and Comfort Challenges at Historic School

Dec. 16, 2021

Newman Architects select resilient flooring that is comfortable and manages sound to deliver quality learning environment.

Washington, D.C.
Newman Architects

Creative Minds International Public Charter School partnered with Newman Architects to transform the historic building they occupy into a modern space for learning. The school is located in the Sherman Building on the Armed Forces Retirement Home campus in Washington, D.C., a site that began serving as the first permanent retirement home for enlisted soldiers in 1852. This renovation occurred in a 6,000-sq.-ft. space in the unoccupied south wing of the building and included the addition of three new classrooms, an activated common area and other support spaces.

According to the architect, “With the focus on the lighting and acoustical challenges, the design team reimagined the high-ceilinged common space at the heart of the unoccupied wing for innovative educational programming. The interior finishes are articulated to make the existing and new spaces read as a consistent and welcoming whole. In addition, we addressed deficiencies in the school’s current educational spaces, such as acoustics, technology, safety and security.”

At Creative Minds, 25% of the student body is recognized as having extra needs, which meant that creating a learning environment that was comfortable and offered good acoustics were of particular importance. Both design objectives demanded that special consideration be given to the material selection. 


For the flooring, Newman Architects prioritized materials that offered resilience, sound management and underfoot comfort, while creating a home-like feel that remained applicable to the historic context. They ultimately chose Altro Orchestra and Altro Wood Comfort. Altro Orchestra is a comfort-backed, high-design, smooth sheet flooring available in both neutral and vibrant colors. It contains an integrated impact sound insulation system, which cuts impact sound by up to 15dB. This better manages sounds that could be quite alarming and disruptive during the school day, such as dropping textbooks on the floor. It also reduces noise from footfalls in the corridors, lowering the overall level of ambient noise during passing periods. Altro Wood Comfort flooring offers a home-like and stylish option for incorporating the look of a wood floor in a resilient surface. There are multiple plank sizes and shades available. This solution also offers 15dB sound reduction, provides comfort underfoot and provides a slip resistance of R10. Both flooring products resist indentation up to 1,000 psi, are FloorScore certified for low-VOC emissions, and are manufactured with rapidly renewable, bio-based content. They also offer incredible ease of cleaning, exceptional long-term durability and low-maintenance costs.

In addition to these performance attributes, the design team appreciated the ability to create distinctive patterns and designs which they used for wayfinding, creating points of focus, and denoting clear space for egress in some of the mixed-used hallways. This was particularly useful in turning larger rooms into smaller separate spaces, and the faculty loved this feature.