Unexpectedly, his career in coffee led Zack back to his roots in sound. This time in the form of the field of architectural acoustics. “I moonlight as an Architectural Acoustics designer – it’s and area of a construction project that if overlooked during planning, can make for a terrible customer experience, and ultimately a very expensive retrofit.”
The most distinctive design feature of Union Coffee may be the one you don’t notice at all: You can actually hear… the music, your conversation, yourself think. Even over the pumping and frothing of his chrome, art-deco Victoria Arduino espresso machine.
“This particular space was a big concrete cube with 22-foot ceilings and floor to ceiling windows. Those are difficult things acoustically. Generally, you’re going to get a space that sounds like a stone cave,” says Zack. “I wanted to create a space that was beautiful, tall, airy and energetic, but that still felt cozy and controlled, like it had nine-foot ceilings, wood floors and no tile.”
From his studio and live sound background, he knew what the specific challenges for this space would be: he had to get rid of the reverb created by the reflective surfaces and 90-degree-angle parallel and perpendicular walls and large open space. One of the surfaces had to be a major acoustical element of the room. He decided to create an “acoustic compression” ceiling.
Though it’s invisible to the untrained eye, the ceiling slants at a specific angle up as it goes from the mezzanine toward the back wall, forming a natural tuner (a series of “Helmholtz resonators” for you sound nerds). In effect, it absorbs the out of control bass and strategically channels midrange and high-end sounds toward natural areas of sonic diffusion. The long black slats in the ceiling that look like an Instagram-worthy design are actually a combination of denim insulation and paper cellulose packed three-feet thick to absorb sound as well. “I needed a combination of controlled reflections and absorption, in order to get the room acoustically even enough that you can easily have a conversation with a friend while the music is bumping and there are other conversations happening, while there is still enough sonic “action” in the room to facilitate a vibrant atmosphere.”
The final element of the sonic design is an “acoustical cloud” above the bar: a geometric beaux-arts tile design made of stranded wood and cement that prevents sound from selectively canceling and multiplying side-to-side in the big, open space (what sound engineers refer to as comb filtering and standing waves).
The upshot: you get to clearly hear Zack’s indie-meets-old-school vinyl collection, which is displayed along the back wall.