The corner of Market and Merrimack Streets in Newburyport, Mass., endures more than its fair share of traffic noise. For starters, it’s barely 50 feet from the town’s only major highway. Merrimack Street fronts the parcel and serves as the town’s popular waterfront roadway. Noise? It’s constant. If you’re planning a mixed-use development there, you better have a solution for the nonstop clamor.

Scott Brown and his associate, Matt Langis, have one. In fact, some say it’s the gold standard for sealing off outdoor noise pollution.

Brown is principal of Scott M. Brown Architects, a 20-year-old practice based in Newburyport. Langis is a project architect there, part of a team of six.

55 STC Rating

“It’s a very busy intersection,” Brown explains. “We designed five premium two- and three-bedroom residential units with ground floor retail. We’re looking forward to seeing how it handles street noise.”

The ‘it’ Brown refers to is ICF (insulated concrete forms). ICF is a wall system formed by stacking foam-framed blocks Lego-like to create a cast-in-place concrete wall. The concrete mass creates a nearly soundproof enclosure with a 55 STC rating. (By comparison, the average STC rating for wood-frame structures is just 38.)

It’s one of an assortment of structural advantages now in play as the three-story, 9,570-square-foot mixed-use development rises from the excavation site. Completion is expected later this year.

Early Challenges

When the building owner approached the firm with an ICF-only requirement—the practice’s first—Langis admits to some initial jitters. Those nerves quickly faded thanks to the support of the project’s general contractor, Groen Construction of Rochester, N.H., and structural engineer, both ICF veterans.

One challenge was a four-foot drop off from left to right and a 10-foot drop off from back to front. “It’s a difficult site to work with,” says Langis. “We struggled with the grade.”

Aesthetic Integrity

Another concern was aesthetic. Could the Brown design team preserve the town’s historic seaside character with traditional forms and building materials? The building location is a downtown gateway, destined to be a landmark for arriving tourists. Brown says no worries. “This building proves you can create high quality design with ICF. The building skin is extraordinarily important.” The finished exterior will be a sand texture stucco finish in an off-white taupe, consistent with a coastal aesthetic.

The building only has electric heat, another interesting twist given the perception that it’s not enough to keep up with cold New England winters. “MEP engineers looked into it and were insistent ductless mini-splits were sufficient because of the building’s mass.” The units are quiet, efficient, and comparatively easy to install.

Positive Buzz

Even the permitting was a bit of a surprise. Whatever pushback they expected gave way to rapid recognition of a superior construction method true to the town’s architectural heritage. “The permitting process was pretty straightforward. When even the building inspector is excited by the project, you know there’s a good buzz going on around town,” adds Langis.

Now that construction is well underway, the two architects can relax. “We were uncomfortable at the start,” concedes Brown. “The owner pushed us, forcing us to think outside our comfort zone. I’m grateful for that.”

Learn more about how ICF can help you extend development opportunities with noise resistive concrete.