My Engineering Muse

ME alum combines acoustical ear with engineering expertise

Kenric Van Wyk (MSME ’91), president of Acoustics By Design

Before my time at Purdue, I was the quintessential high school choir geek. Solo and ensemble competitions, theater performances, and choir concerts were always on the calendar. The only problem: I was also pretty good at math; I had the whole left-brain/right brain thing going on. So as high school ended and college neared, I pursued a degree that would allow me to use both my math and art skills — acoustical consulting.

While completing my undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering, I began interning at a small acoustical consulting firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The job was great. We used high-tech noise meters and sophisticated software to measure acoustics in buildings, which satisfied my left-brain math fix, and we worked closely with architects (many of whom consider themselves artists at heart) to design acoustical improvements and finishes that fit a space’s aesthetic, which fulfilled my right-brain needs.

When you’re a left/right-brained person, you need balance: math and art, schedule and flexibility. To me, the balance was found in acoustical consulting. That meant Purdue University was the right place for me. I completed my master’s in mechanical engineering acoustics from Purdue in 1991 and have been working in the field ever since. In 2001, I returned to Grand Rapids and bought the company I interned at and renamed it Acoustics By Design. Now we are one of the largest acoustical consulting firms in the Midwest, offering acoustical engineering and audiovisual design services for everything from auditoriums and schools to hospitals and churches. And in each project, I get to do what I love.

A good example of this would be the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the world’s first LEED Gold Certified art museum. Achieving the LEED Gold level of certification means it’s designed with state-of-the-art energy efficiency and environmental awareness. Low water use, natural day-lighting, and optimized acoustics give the building longevity and sustainability.

Acoustics By Design provided acoustical engineering and audiovisual systems design for the galleries and the auditorium. We worked closely with Design Plus, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and wHY Architecture out of Los Angeles to seamlessly integrate the acoustical materials into the restrained minimalistic architecture. The museum has a lot of concrete and reflective surfaces, so it was full of acoustical challenges. One of the solutions was a European product called BASWAphon, which looks like drywall, but is really a sound absorbing material.

Another challenge was the auditorium, which was designed to host everything from live music and film festivals to banquets and presentations. Our audiovisual designers developed a technical system that was flexible enough for the multiple uses, yet user-friendly enough for the museum staff to operate with ease.

As an independent acoustical consulting firm, our job is to represent the needs of the client throughout the entire project, ensuring that when everything is said and done, they end up with a fantastic sounding and looking space. And by all accounts, the Grand Rapids Art Museum is just that.