Traditional lay-in acoustic ceiling tiles may not get much love from the architectural and design community, but for many spaces, they are simply the most effective ceiling solution. This is especially true for retrofits, where existing HVAC systems must be accessible, as well as any project where budgets and background noise are issues.

Background noise and mechanical accessibility were top concerns for the team at Jacobs, the firm charged with designing the interior of the CertainTeed/Saint-Gobain North American headquarters in Malvern, Pa. The original plan for the 119,000 square feet of open office space within the facility called for CertainTeed Ceilings Symphony f fiberglass panels to be installed in a floating island configuration over the workspace areas. The contrast of the smooth, white panels against the black-painted plenum and exposed ductwork in corridors and transition areas would be dramatic.

Rarely are architects dealing with a single source of sound or a single type, and the CertainTeed office was no exception. The realities of the low-frequency mechanical system noise required the team to rethink their approach, finding a creative way to achieve the same overall aesthetic while ensuring the workstations remained quiet.

A solution was needed that would block the mechanical sound from reaching the workstations below, and while fiberglass provides excellent absorption, it is a poor sound blocker. In a situation like this, many would default to one of the following single-product solutions:

  1. Choose a panel based on the more significant concern: either a high absorbing fiberglass panel for the speech noise or a high blocking mineral fiber panel for the mechanical noise.
  2. Compromise with a mineral fiber panel that has moderate blocking and absorbing capabilities.
  3. Install a premium composite panel that excels at both blocking and absorbing throughout the entire space.

There is an alternative: a multi-product solution leveraging targeted acoustic characteristics, which is what the Jacobs team chose for the CertainTeed headquarters. Symphony f fiberglass makes up the majority of the ceiling. The NRC of 0.95 is ideal for absorbing background speech noise in the open office.

Directly below the heat pumps, premium CertainTeed Ceilings Adagio composite ceilings perform a dual acoustic function. A fiberglass face absorbs sound, while a mineral fiber backer blocks the mechanical noise from above. Most importantly from an aesthetic perspective, the difference in tiles is invisible to the occupant, because Symphony and Adagio share the same clean, minimally textured surface and edge detail for a perfect match. The look also matches the Symphony m mineral fiber tiles chosen for the smaller conference and meeting rooms.

Instead of an open plenum painted black, CertainTeed Ceilings Theatre Black f fiberglass panels were installed around the perimeter to create the visual effect of free-floating islands while providing additional sound absorption.

There’s no reason to settle for a lesser-of-evils approach, when targeted acoustic solutions can meet all key goals for the space, without sacrificing visual impact, acoustic performance or budget. Visit for more solutions.