Adapting and Preserving: Our Sanctuary's New Ceiling

Sound Cloud: Beautiful and Practical

In a time when many churches are struggling to keep their doors open, Kenwood Baptist Church is undergoing a 4.5 million dollar renovation and expansion project to meet the demands of a 21st-century church that hosts major speaker events, conferences, and a growing population of young families.

Kenwood Baptist Church is about to complete a nine-month renovation and expansion construction project. Located in the middle of Cincinnati, within a stone’s throw of the Kenwood Towne Center, Kenwood Baptist Church draws members about 30 zip codes in Cincinnati.  

Kenwood’s sanctuary was designed in 1961 before there were loudspeakers to carry sound, but with new technology, the old design was causing problems with how sound was carried. The solution was a sound cloud acoustic ceiling designed to capture reverberations. The new sound cloud is made of wood with millions of pin-sized holes called micro-perforations. The wood, micro-perforations, and hidden sound tubes capture sound rising upward, allowing for better control of sound in the room.

While adapting the sanctuary’s audio quality is the primary reason for installing the sound cloud, it is also an opportunity to refresh the appearance of the space.

“We wanted something that was going to be beautiful and sculptural in keeping with the theme of the building in general which has a mid-century modern feeling,” said Sarah Sulek, a member of Kenwood Baptist Church who has been active in the planning of every stage of the expansion.

Mary Milliken, Director of Design with HiFive, the design-build construction firm in charge of the building project at Kenwood Baptist Church, designed the sound cloud and oversaw its construction. Milliken said sound clouds are often part of large spaces like auditoriums which are big to hold a lot of people but also require engineered acoustics.

At Kenwood, Milliken wanted to bring the sanctuary ceiling down and to put in something that was a nod to the existing mid-century modern architecture while bringing it forward in design. Milliken designed the sound cloud to mimic the zigzags of the current walls and the tilting structure of the ceiling. She also intended to create a visual contrast to the roundness of the barrel vaults, marrying the hard and soft together in a harmonious design.

What is different about the Kenwood project for Milliken is the use of wood as a base material for the sound cloud. Though an easier choice would have been to use acoustic tiles, Milliken wanted to use wood for its acoustic properties and for its appropriateness for mid-century modern design. This design style typically uses natural materials such as wood and stone. She contracted with ACGI, a division of Armstrong Ceilings to manufacture the sound cloud.

“I’m so excited about how it’s going to fit in the space. The shape is going to be very interesting. It makes it feel cozy,” said Milliken.

Lyle Fiore, chair of the building committee said, “It’s going to add a beautiful architectural element to the space as well as making a dramatic improvement to the sound quality of the sanctuary. It also allows us to have more control over lighting.”

It was very important that the renovation’s features would make the space feel welcoming to the community. Kenwood Baptist Church’s Senior Pastor David Palmer said of the sound cloud, “I think it’s an artistic treatment of the ceiling that updates the space but retains conversation with its mid-century modern architecture and adds a dramatic flourish to the sanctuary. It’s both visually appealing and restful.”

Kenwood plans a Grand Re-Opening in early summer when the sound cloud and the entire expansion will be available to be seen by the public. “We welcome the whole community to come join us!” said David Palmer.

Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!