Interview #5 : Felicia Doggett from Metropolitan Acoustics

Fifth video interview with an acoustical consultant in the US ! I am very proud to announce that I have achieved half of my goal ! This time, there is not one, but two people that have accepted to be interviewed !

Ms Doggett talks about her company, her work, her projects and she shares some useful tips at the end of the interview. At the end, it was more an informal talk rather than an interview, which was very pleasant ! And I also discovered that my city is known in Pennsylvania !

Once again, we experienced some technical problems but fortunately, there was no impact on my camera and you can still see my face !

Here are the main points we spoke about :

General Presentation

Metropolitan Acoustics

Felicia Doggett founded Metropolitan Acoustics in 1990. After a past experience in Polysonics in Washington DC, she founded the company because there was no acoustical consulting firm in Philadelphia (PA). She was working from home doing small projects at first, but now the company employs 10 people and has its own headquarters. They do both acoustical and audiovisual designing consulting work.

Felicia’s job in particular

Like Mr Lenz last week, she is the founder of the company ! She still does consulting on projects, but you can summarize her job in a simple word : EVERYTHING. Indeed, she also works on marketing, business development and administrative work.

But now I have a lot of people helping me so it’s not so bad.

Why acoustics ?

Felicia went to the University of Delaware and majored in music. However, she has always been passionate about math and music. According to her, acoustics is a good combination of the musical end of things and the math and physics side of things.

I never regret going into acoustics, it was definitely my calling.

Sooch San Souci is a French colleague of Felicia for a couple of years now. As a Frenchman working in the USA, I welcomed him to the interview. He studied music, speech intelligibility, psychoacoustics and electronics at IRCAM and Collège de France. He built a firm in France dedicated to recording studios and cinemas mainly. To him, acoustics is a natural evolution parallel to being passionnate about math and music.

Why moving to the US ? What are the differences between France and the US with regards to acoustics ?

Sooch starts with 3 statements :

The work of the acoustician is exactly the same. The requirements from the acoustical community are exactly the same. And the interactions with architects are exactly the same.

However, what is different is the construction industry. In France, people aren’t building or renovating spaces, and this leads to poor work for acousticians. Though he was a respected acoustician, Sooch wasn’t given a lot of work.

This entails his moving to the USA. Indeed, they have come out of this recession so there is a lot of work to do ! Felicia Doggett adds that the economy is tremendous nowadays : Banks lend money to fund billion-dollar projects (especially corporate and condominium projects) !

Their best project so far ?

After, 5 interviews, I realize that it can be hard for speakers to chose a project. For example, Sooch said that his best projects are those when people said that the results are much better than expected but didn’t mention a specific project at first.

Sooch’s best project is for the Chateau La Borie in Limoges (France). The idea was to make a recital hall out of a square stone barn, which was “ridiculously contradictory”. Now, this recital hall is used to record classical music.

Château La Borie

Château La Borie (Limoges, France), Sooch’s best project.

Felicia chose the World Cafe Live projects. There are two halls, respectively fitted out of an old theatre and a warehouse. They are totally different but used for the same purpose : amplified music. The challenge was to make these spaces less reverberant. She is particularly proud of these projects because she gets a lot of positive feedback from people who attended a concert there.

World Cafe Live Philadelphia

World Cafe Live, Philadelphia

Another memorable project was “very unglamorous” but still interesting. It was a 6-story building in Philadelphia with a mechanical penthouse on the 6th floor. The owner wanted to lease the 5th floor but there was a lot of noise due to the mechanical and electrical equipements in the 6th floor slab. There was no way to get rid of it so they had to lift the transformers to put isolaters underneath. This project was worth about $130 000 and it worked perfectly ! A perfect example that math doesn’t lie !

It’s very satisfying at the end because you can actually see what you’ve done.

Isolators

The isolaters are in green underneath the mechanical systems.

An acoustical consultant in particular

The profile of an acoustical consultant

Metropolitan Acoustics has different kinds of acoustical consultants : Entry level candidates and people with experience like Sooch San Souci. According to Felicia, here’s what they need to have :

  • A degree in acoustics or a related field. It seems logical but one of my close friend always says that obvious facts are only obvious when they are said.
  • EXPERIENCE. Felicia is not the first one to say this. Having a background in the profession is very important.
  • A proficiency in Computer-Aided Design and 3D modeling programs is good because acoustical consultants use it a lot.
  • Being organized is important as you will manage between 5 to 10 projects in the same time. Multitasking is very important.

Finally, and I think it’s not specific to acoustical consultants, you need to have a professional attitude and an easy-going personality.

A typical day in the life of an acoustical consultant

Felicia’s day starts at 08:00AM. Her typical day is made of emails, projects, proposals and testing. She does a lot of emails and phonecalls with clients related to different projects. In a project, she doesn’t do all the calculations, but she is in charge of the project management. She also has to meet clients and check on projects. She is often out of the office so it’s sometimes hard to balance office work and work outside the office. Sometimes, she also does testing with sound levels meters from her “menagerie”. They also receive new inquiries everyday so they have to write proposals for each inquiry. She leaves the office at 05:30PM and sometimes does some emails from home.

Sooch has a totally different pattern ! Back in France, he used to work from 11:00AM to 07:00PM and then coming back to work at 09:00PM ! Because he was working for worldwide projects, the afternoon was dedicated to European projects and the evening to the American ones. Now that he works at Metropolitan Acoustics, he starts at 07:30AM and leaves at 05:30PM. Sometimes, he comes back to the office but since he can access servers remotely, he can also work from home.

How do they conduct a project ?

A project often starts with an inquiry from the client, to which they reply by a proposal. If it gets accepted, the project starts. If it’s about acoustical testing, they have to go on site. If it’s about a building that is in design, everything can be done from the office based on blueprints. During the project, they have to go to meetings so as to discuss the progress.

The final step is to write a report with recommendations and CAD drawings that the contractor will use. Depending on what the contractor can do, they have to review submittals to be sure that what the contractor wants to use fits with what Metropolitan Acoustics recommend.Then they go on site for a construction site inspection, a final checkout and an acoustical testing.

At Metropolitan Acoustics, there are 6 people working on acoustical projects and 2 on A/V projects. Each project is different so depending on what is asked, there can be interactions between them or they work alone. The length of a project ranges from a week to several years. For example, they have a project for Comcast that will be under design for 2 years and under construction for 3 years. Finally, they set a minimum limit to cut off small projects (eg neighborhood problems) : they don’t work on any project that is worth less than $2000.

comcast innovation center

Comcast Innovation Center project

Acoustics for living spaces

Although they don’t really specialize in a particular type of projects, Metropolitan Acoustics have major markets. I have chosen to talk about living spaces, especially condominiums.

They have to follow the IBC standard that has specific requirements about acoustics and sound transmission. Ineed, dwelling units have to be isolated from common areas to maintain a good sound level within them. This includes work on airborne and impact noise. There is also what Felicia calls the luxury level of the unit : the richer the people are, the less they want to hear their neighbors.

To achieve this, they have to reach a large IIC number, which means there is a good attenuation of sound. This can be done by designing designing walls to meet a minimum of sound transmission and sometimes isolating mechanical systems. They mainly use metal studs and gypsum boards for walls and concrete for floors. Unlike Mr Lenz who works a lot with wood-based products for the recording studios, Metropolitan Acoustics doesn’t use it because it’s not adapted for these kinds of buildings.

They also work on green building design, especially with the LEED certification. Basically, to get LEED certification, a building needs to have sustainable elements with regards to energy efficiency, daylighting or public transportation for example. These installations give points to the project and gets it certified to the associated level. Read more here.

But they also work on other types of projects : office building for corporations, speech privacy etc. They also work for higher education dormitories as well as for kindergartens, restaurants and the list goes on. If you want to work in acoustics, you can be sure that there will always be someting to do !

Acoustics and speech intelligibility

Speech intellibility is more Sooch’s part. From 2002 to 2008, he worked on it at CNRS in Orsay (France). A simple application of speech intelligibility is communication between students and the teacher in classrooms. Sooch did some research on it. His role was to compare systems for the enhancement of speach between students and the teacher.

He created a 3D modeling software and an index for speech intelligibility (STI) that has 5 different levels, from bad to excellent. This index is simple : if the difficulty of the message increases, so should the index. Speech intelligibility is important as it’s proven that there is a true impact on the working memory. This index will be included in future specifications for classrooms and Sooch predicts that in the next 10 years, there will be a whole new way to look at classrooms.

classroom

Imagine the speech intelligibility challenges in this classroom.

It’s very funny because I did the interview on Monday and I worked on it on Saturday. But on Thursday, there were internships defenses in my school and there was a girl that used the STI for her work in the Stade de France in Paris ! She basically used Sooch’s index and I didn’t know it !

Perspectives

Their short-term projects

There are plenty of short-term projects ! Some examples : a theater, an outdoor chiller that blasts noise off condominiums close to it, an hydraulic elevator that must be isolated, conference rooms in which you can hear what’s outside and vice versa. Basically, these short-term projects are in 3 steps : Going out, doing measurements and fixing the problem.

We are like the problem fixers.

superhero

Inside the acoustical consultant.

Their long-term projects

The long term projects are projects that are under design. The main one is the new Comcast Innovation Center, which will be the tallest building in Philadelphia (close to 60 storeys). They also work for the University of Pennsylvania. They have to renovate college residence halls. That includes dormitories, activity areas, music rooms, games rooms, dining areas … pretty much everything ! Finally, there is also a medical center. These projects are the long-term ones because they are in design and this part can last 2 to 3 years.

She would like to follow the steps of Leo Beranek, founder of Bolt Beranek and Newman, who turned 100 a couple of weeks ago. He is basically the founder of acoustical consulting ! Though advanced in age, he is still involved in the Acoustical Society of America ! When we talked about it, I couldn’t remember his name, but now I remember that the founder of Kirkegaard Associates was from this company, nice coincidence ! Outside of that, her main goal is to bring on partners in the company. As the founder, she will stay at the company until she retires and maybe phasing out to do some research.

leo beranek

Leo Beranek, founder of the profession, Felicia’s hero.

One more thing : Some tips for people like me

The main tip Felicia gave during this interview is to stay in touch with people. And here’s how :

  • Go to Acoustical Society of America meetings. By the way, that’s where she met Sooch San Souci ! There is also a student reception handled by the National Council of Acoustical Consultants. This is a great way to meet people face to face. There are scholarships for students who want to go to these meetings.
  • Email or phone people that might have internships. Felicia recommends long-term internships (6 months or more) because you can be trained better and maybe hired after, who knows ?

 

And even during the last part of the interview, there were still interestings things ! For example, they know my city ! As I said here, I study in Le Mans, which is well known for its laboratory called LAUM. It’s amazing to see that people from Philadelphia know this lab, which is .4 mile far from my school !

I highly recommend hanging out there !

And Sooch also added that he did some work for 42, a revolutionary new school created by a French tech entrepreneur Xavier Niel. Remember his name in the US, he is said to buy T-Mobile soon !

 

One more time, thanks again to Felicia Dogget and Sooch San Souci from Real Acoustix ! A new interview is coming ! But that will be for the next post !

Thanks for reading and tell me if you spotted any English mistake =)

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