Senyai: Vaulted Acoustics


Project Type: Restaurant
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Phase: Built
Year: Summer 2017

Related Links: LIT Design Award 2018, The American Architecure Prize 2017, Architect Magazine, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, ACSA 106: Building Behaviors, German Design Council Iconic Architecture Award.

Senyai Thai Restaurant is a small 340sq space striving to create unique atmosphere in the developing urban district of Pittsburgh. The ceiling, inspired by the vaulted geometry of ancient Thai architecture, incorporates acoustic and lighting performance into a contemporary spatial experience with soft ambient effects. The ceiling of Senyai, inspired by the vaulted geometry of ancient Thai architecture, incorporates acoustic and lighting performance into a contemporary spatial experience with soft ambient effects. Visual layering of ceilings fins is suggestive of movement while changing the diffusion of global sound though varied depth of each individual double-curved vaulted zone. The global texture of the surface and color plays with light to create a sense spatial weightlessness and visual expansion, as the eye travels beyond the each articulated edge. At the same time the slats appear as a continuous surface, mimicking an active body of water, or, in homage to the restaurant’s name (“senyai” translates to “big noodles” in Thai), a bowl of hot noodles in broth. The ceiling is formed by a series of 275 unique vertical slats that perpendicularly sectionally change in series in the perpendicular direction–no two slats, or vaults, are alike. Using a non-uniform diagrid as a method for standardizing highly varied component-based construction, we created a localized effect of privacy while diffusing sound through the dynamic character of geometry.
Using three dimensional ellipsoidal vaults, the ceiling geometry supports a sense of individual presence within the small collective space. An ellipsoid is a double curved surface that in its idealized version concentrates the direction of the sound to travel back to the foci point at which the table is located. In Senyai’s ceiling the computational surface of the pure ellipsoid is materialized through series of diagonally cut slotted fins that mitigate sound reflections in the space related to high frequency sounds. The fins increase the area of the elliptical surface to maximize the number of sound reflections, trapping them sectionally within their depth and thus holistically performing as a spatial diffuser. As each bay within the diagrid has a varied size and depth, each bay produces a different frequency of reverberation, making the global diffusion more pleasant, cutting off high frequencies (high noise levels) in the space. The intention was to create a geometry that would both act as a holistic sound diffuser throughout the small room with the potential to direct the localized sound intensity towards the elliptical foci, and cut off the fall-off sound towards the neighboring zones. Hence the depth of the fins varies, thinning towards the top vertex of the ellipsoid and thickening towards its edges. The scalar variation along the collective ellipsoidal geometry produces a series of sound effects dispersed along the larger space. Historically, double curved vaults were used to create echoed reverberation effects with a series of successive reflections on hard smooth surfaces. In this case, we are using geometry to simultaneously reflect and diffuse the sound to effectively soften the acoustic spatial quality. Slotting of the geometry eliminates the echo effects that would be otherwise produced, while still allowing for a concentrated privacy of sound within the loose boundaries of three dimensional bubble. The relationship of the global geometry to variation of the surface subdivision allows for both: easy digital fabrication through the use of CNC technology, as well as tighter coordination of performative effects.

| DESIGN PRINCIPAL: Dana Cupkova © EPIPHYTE Lab | PROJECT LEAD: Gretchen Craig : SIMULATION: Maranatha Putu Dawkins | DESIGN and FABRICATION TEAM: Colleen Clifford, Sinan Goral, Tom Sterling, Trent Wimbiscus | PHOTO CREDIT: Massery Photography Inc. |. 

Lighting Design

Senyai Light

Shaping Acoustic Performance

Senyai Acoustics


Construction Excerpt

Final Design

Final Design