“Any kind of creative content needs to be a family or a collaboration.” – Steven Spielberg
Criterion Acoustics (CA) joined an elite family of experts to help create The Universal Sphere, a 360-degree dome theater in Philadelphia’s Comcast Technology Center. An immersive experience dedicated to exploring the power of ideas, The Power of I comes from Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks Animation, Universal Parks and Resorts, and Comcast Labs.
Ensuring that the Sphere—designed by the renowned architectural firm Foster + Partners—would be acoustically sound presented an unprecedented challenge. The CA team took on several unique problems on the way to ensuring that no sound issues distracted the audience from the program, which focuses on the power of ideas to shape our world.
“The Universal Sphere is an attraction unlike any other,” says David Kotch, President of Criterion Acoustics. “It’s a geodesic dome design constructed out of GFRG panels, a type of fiberglass with no inherent acoustical properties. The fact that it’s a sphere made things even more complicated, because its very hard to control sound focusing within such a structure—sound can emit from a source and come back at unpredictable angles.”
Adding to the obstacles for clean acoustics was a complex surround sound setup with 74 speakers spread around the dome. And since the dome moves at various points in the program, vibrations and mechanical noise presented constant sonic hazards throughout.
CA took on the Universal Sphere by deploying IAC Acoustics panels in an intricate grid, devising a dome within the dome to tame reflections. The firm also applied its renowned expertise in sound isolation, mechanical noise control, and vibration isolation to quiet the structure as it moves. Additional voice control measures further focus the narration from famed actor Peter Coyote, and sharpen the soundtrack from Academy Award-winning composers Mychael and Jeff Danna.
For the CA team, the Universal Sphere proved to be a complex acoustical design for immersive attractions project that was well worth the time. “We achieved an STC rating of 70 here, which would be noteworthy even for a residential build,” Kotch notes. “It’s an innovative public display where sound is a true asset to the experience, in every way.”