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Restaurant Adds Modern AV

New York's Museum of Modern Art adds a high-end restaurant destination equipped with premium acoustics to complement its d?cor.

Restaurant Adds Modern AV

New York’s Museum of Modern Art adds a high-end restaurant destination equipped with premium acoustics to complement its d?cor.

CHALLENGE: Ensure that the acoustical environment aligns with the entire aesthetic experience of a newly opened restaurant in a world- famous museum.

SOLUTION: Address the acoustic environment and sound system design with the same level of importance as the menu and furnishings.

NEW YORK City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is one of the world’s most famous museums. So when MoMA shut its doors last year for a planned renovation, its high-profile redux was observed with marked anticipation. In January of 2005, MoMA celebrated its 75th anniversary with the grand reopening of the most extensive renovation project in the museum’s history.

The museum’s overall redesign held a price tag of $800 million and was headed by architect Yoshio Taniguchi. The museum’s redesign integrates both new and existing construction combined with high-tech sound and video systems. Among the new additions to the updated MoMA is The Modern restaurant located on West 53rd Street, one of several new eateries in the museum owned and operated by New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG).

What sets The Modern apart is the investment in acoustical control, sound level sensing, and premium audio components to provide an enjoyable atmosphere for its three distinct spaces: its Bar Room, Dining Room, and Private Dining Rooms. New York City-based acoustical consulting firm SIA Acoustics was brought into the project by USHG to design both the acoustical control and the sound system for the entire restaurant. This level of attention devoted to acoustical and sound system details is a hallmark of both The Modern’s architect Bentel & Bentel of New York City and partners at USHG. Ed Simon, president of Pittsburg, PA-based Edward Simon & Company completed the installation.

“A successful restaurant embodies all of the senses in order to achieve a complete guest experience,” says David Swinghamer, partner in USHG. “We sit in every seat to check out the sound and sight so we can understand the customer experience from every chair in the restaurant. We strive for our guests to leave the restaurant feeling like it was a wonderful experience where they were served great food by hospitable people in a warm and caring atmosphere.”

That hands-on approach may explain why other USHG properties, including the Blue Smoke/Jazz Standard, Gramercy Tavern, and Union Square Café, are some of the best and most beloved restaurants in New York.

Unique requirements

The Modern presents challenging acoustical environments because of its architecture as well as its atmosphere. “The acoustical requirements for high-end restaurants are challenging to execute,” says Sam Berkow, founder and principle consultant of SIA Acoustics. “It has to sound loud enough to seem informal but not so loud that it loses its elegance. In the bar, you want it to seem lively when it’s not full, but people need to be able to talk and order drinks without getting a headache when it is full. In a casual dining situation, patrons need to be able to sit and enjoy their conversation but not feel like they have to whisper so as not to break the atmosphere.”


The nature of acoustics is both art and science. Not only must acousticians control the sound level and spectral balance in a particular space, but they must often also satisfy the aesthetic requirements of an architect’s design. A new generation of acoustical methods and materials are meeting the needs of both acousticians and architects alike. From active vibration dampers for HVAC and machinery to noise barriers and acoustic paneling, there are numerous ways to control noise without marring aesthetics.

For example, the BASWAphon Acoustic System, manufactured by BASWA Schall- und Wärmedämmstoffe AG of Switzerland, used at The Modern is an interior finishing system that can be made to look like painted drywall or plaster. This is a far cry from foam acoustical tiles glued onto walls in past years. RPG’s BASWAphon Acoustic System consists of pre-coated mineral wool supporting panels that are applied directly to a flat or curved wall or ceiling surface. The seams between the supporting panels are then filled. After drying, the seams are sanded and a high-density topcoat is applied and smoothed. The base and topcoats can be pigmented to match any color.

Huntington, NY-based manufacturer Newmat USA also offers a PVC stretch ceiling system that comes in more than 300 colors and several different finishes. Although Newmat isn’t inherently sound absorptive, it can be perforated and used to hide acoustical material above the panels. The company also offers an acoustical version of its stretch ceiling called Newacoustic, which features sound absorption benefits.

Steve Sockey, partner and senior consultant of SIA Acoustics, designed the sound system design based on understanding how The Modern would use the space and then formulating what kind of system would be required. USHG knew that The Modern would be a destination rather than a simple dining experience so the sound system in each of the three zones has a different capability.

“Our expertise is serving the performing arts, which translates very well into The Modern,” Berkow says. “We treated The Modern as we would a high-end special event and offered a design that’s flexible and operable under variable conditions. USHG is dedicated to using technology to better their properties.”

Sound is critical

As part of the renovation, a separate street-level entrance to The Modern was created so that the restaurant could stay open after museum hours. “Sound is critical from the moment you enter The Modern off of 53rd Street,” Swinghamer says. “We wanted people to instantly feel like they are in a place that is welcoming, active and fun, so they’re greeted by the Bar Room, which consists of a casual dining area next to a bar. In the bar, there’s music in the background that’s present but not intrusive.”

The bar area features low ceilings because its part of the restaurant had to cohesively blend in with the rest of the building’s architecture. Four Innovox FRC-625 flush-mount ceiling speakers were installed in the bar area primarily for music playback. The system also uses the automatic sound level sensing feature of a BSS Soundweb system and three Astatic WM-625 wall-mounted omnidirectional microphones. Soundweb’s level-sensing function monitors the level of noise in the bar and ducks the playback up or down in relation to a set parameter of acceptable noise. As the Bar Room gets louder, the music volume is turned down accordingly.

In the Bar Room’s dining area, the ceiling is only 8 inches deep because of the abundance of duct-work hidden above it. Narrow ceiling slots were the only available place for HVAC outlets, lights, and sound. Sockey specified custom Innovox LT-204 slot speakers with a beveled baffle shape that could mount flush to the ceiling and satisfy the architect’s requirements for a clean look.

To address the acoustical challenges in the varying environments at The Modern, Berkow chose a mix of hard and soft surfaces such as plush seating to off-set the reflective nature of the bar itself. He also chose finishes that hid much of the acoustical treatment. BASWAphon acoustical plaster by RPG Diffuser Systems (see sidebar) was applied to the ceiling as well as a Newmat perforated ceiling with sound absorbing materials above. Berkow’s acoustical design also hid sound absorbing material such as 2-inch glass fiber behind decorative metal plates on doorways in the hallway entrances into the kitchen, which keeps noise from the kitchen contained.

Formal dining experience

The centerpiece of the The Modern is its fine dining area, which features a 65-foot-long by 28-foot-tall glass wall topped with aluminum finishes overlooking 31 sculptures in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller sculpture garden — one of the world’s premier curated sculpture gardens. Large amounts of glass restricted available wall space and presented a challenge to both the acoustical and sound system designs. In addition, there were varying ceiling heights from 12 feet soaring up to 30 feet over a relatively narrow floor area.

“The demands of the physical space didn’t allow us to put anything on the ceiling,” Berkow says. “The large glass walls and metal ceiling definitely presented us with extreme conditions. All of these elements make the fine dining area very live acoustically, and also make it difficult to hide either acoustical treatments or loudspeakers. Our solution was to use the spaces perpendicular to the glass for both acoustical treatment and loudspeakers. Further, we were able to cover all of the columns in the space with acoustical treatment, and in some cases ‘hide’ narrow-profile loudspeakers in this treatment.”

Bentel wanted to combine both light and sound sources in a deep trough suspended in the plenum space, which meant a custom loudspeaker was required. Innovox Audio produced a customized version of the SF-204 SoundFrame to fit into a lighting tray. The rectangular lighting tray holds the custom loudspeaker, a lighting fixture, and also acts as a wiring harness for all of the hardware. For the very high ceiling in the fine dining area, a single Innovox Audio LA1425 compact line array speaker was mounted to the narrow ceiling to provide coverage at a 25-degree angle along the long axis and 140-degrees across the long axis of the room.

The Modern also offers two private dining rooms that can each seat 32 people, or can be combined into one large room to seat 64. The private rooms can take additional AV inputs for presentations including two Neumann KMS-105 vocal microphones. SIA also designed additional rigging points using fly bars located in the soffits for additional loudspeakers, if needed.


The system is powered by a total of seven Crown CTS series amplifiers. A Middle Atlantic WRK-44-32 rack is used to house all of the components. With a superb acoustical environment and a sound system designed to meet high quality standards, The Modern has established itself as an instant icon in the New York restaurant scene. Since opening in January 2005, The Modern has hosted several special events, including longtime network anchorman Tom Brokaw’s retirement party.

“Our guests frequently comment on how great the sound is in the restaurant,” Swinghamer says. “Overall, SIA gives value to their work. They always try to anticipate a client’s future usage and needs.”

Linda Seid Frembes is a freelance writer and PR specialist for the professional AV industry. She can be reached at [email protected]

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