Thorburn Associates

Thorburn Associates


Thorburn Associates, Inc. (TA) is a design and engineering firm committed to the creation of high-performing human-made spaces for community and communication in business, entertainment, leisure, worship and the arts through the collaborative practice of Acoustically Integrated Architecture (AIR). The company, founded in 1992 by Lisa A. Thorburn, CTS, and Steven J. Thorburn, PE, CTS-D, CTS-I, maintains offices in California and North Carolina. TA provides full-service acoustical consulting and technology system engineering to architects, facility owners, and end-users around the world. Projects include new construction and renovation for the commercial, corporate, leisure, public, residential, house of worship and retail industries.

Philosophy and Practice

TA has exerted a steady influence on the building and construction industry through its advocacy of Acoustically Integrated Architecture and successful projects that embody its principles. AIR is a holistic best practice which, recognizing that the foremost purpose of buildings is to foster human community, seeks the optimal interface of disciplines for a result that supports the specific intended uses of the building. Recognizing their mutual goals for the building, the architect and building designer team up with the acoustician/systems designer at an early conceptual stage of the project to make the most of their complementary expertise.

In practical terms, AIR is applied by envisioning a structure and its systems as a whole in which architectural elements are aesthetically and functionally integrated with the technical systems that are essential components of today's buildings, but also represent significant sources of noise: HVAC, mechanical systems, reinforced audio, plumbing. AIR practices minimize the possibility of noise fatigue by isolating or zoning areas of noise-generating components and activities from quiet areas, controlling the travel of noise from one area to the next, controlling the acoustic or reverberant buildup of sound, and controlling noise at its source. The goal is a high-performing human-made environment that facilitates community, communication and interaction.

Another essential component of AIR is to take into account acoustics, sightlines and lighting needs to design optimal presentation spaces within a building, with a view to the audiovisual systems it will contain. Wrote TA's Steven Thorburn and Derek Meares in the December 2003 issue of Pro AV magazine , “The common denominator is that each of these factors is often considered part of the building and not part of the AV systems. Too often, end-users think they can simply add AV equipment to an existing space and get an effective presentation environment.”

TA manifests its commitment to AIR principles by actively reaching out to the building design and construction communities to share information and assertively educate the industry about the role of acoustics, by way of participation in trade associations, writing articles for online and print media, and conducting training and education sessions. Steven Thorburn sits on the Executive Committee of the Themed Entertainment Association and is a regular columnist for Systems Contractor News Every year TA presents a full slate of sessions and demonstrations at the InfoComm show presented by ICIA, which named him Educator of the Year for 1996-97. Thorburn continues to lecture and conduct training sessions on videoconferencing, acoustical design and noise control and has done so for the American Institute of Architects (AIA), National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Architectural Engineering Institute (AEI).

Breakthrough Projects

A recent, landmark project is the award winning GSA San Francisco Federal Building at Seventh and Mission Streets, a new office complex completed in 2006 and managed by the U.S. General Services Administration. The 18-story, , LEED®-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) structure features conversational stairwells designed to foster and facilitate interaction between employees. The extra-deep stair landings with built-in window seats allow people who meet on the stairs to move out of the way of foot traffic to chat. An acoustical wall treatment designed by TA in cooperation with the architect, Pritzker Prize recipient Thom Mayne of Morphosis, prevents the sounds of conversation from spilling out of the stairwells into the office spaces. Encounters between employees are further supported by the elevator system, which stops only at every other floor. As a result employees are frequently obliged to use the stairs, which saves energy and promotes physical exercise. The building received an award from CoreNet Global in the category of “Public Sector and Government” during CoreNet’s annual Summit in Denver, Colo., on April 30, 2007. GSA Public Buildings Service Commissioner David Winstead cited the building's “outstanding architecture in terms of integrated engineering, energy efficiency, and delivering high-quality workspace.”

An example of AIR practices applied to renovation work is the 2003 conversion of the 1912 Medinah Temple in Chicago into the Bloomingdale's Home & Furniture Store for Federated Department Stores (Macy's). Trade journalist Dawn Allcot in the January 2004 Sound and Communications magazine describes the project at 600 N. Wabash Ave., in the city’s River North area, as “walking the tightrope between maintaining the historic integrity of the building and installing top-of-the-line AV systems to enhance the shopping experience.” Thorburn Associates and SPL were the audiovisual consultants, working with James Harb Architects.

The Southwest Securities Financial Markets Center at Baylor University Hankamer School of Business in Waco, TX received a Grand Prize for classrooms and training facilities from Presentations magazine in 2005 TA was system designer, working with architect Stanley G. Love, AIA. Presentations editors cited that, “Behind every successful presentation room is a team of architects, designers and audio-visual integrators who have invested hundreds of hours of their time, energy and imagination toward the common goal of a successful project. In the process, the rooms they create become more than just another space inside a building; these boardrooms, classrooms and auditoriums are where vital business decisions are made, new ideas are shared and great presentations are made. Indeed, these rooms are where the organizations who use them come to life, inspired by a unique choreography of architecture, technology, function and aesthetics.”

Additional Project Information

Bartlett Theatre
Anchorage, AK
rowspan=2 valign="top" align="center" width="300px" Camp Snoopy
Minneapolis, MN
rowspan=2 valign="top" align="center" width="300px" - This new Performing Arts Wing includes rehearsal rooms for band, choir, orchestra, and dance and a 400-seat auditorium with full production capabilities. The rehearsal rooms have audio systems for music recording and playback. The auditorium's sound system includes: capabilities for small presentations with no technical support using a plug and play automatic mixing feature. Larger productions use mixers located either in the control booth or at a mix position in the audience area. The system supports the future addition of front projection video and computer sources.
The acoustical design for this center was made to provide a “comfortable family environment” without having the distractions by noise generated by the mini theme park inside the Mall of America.
Elan Pharmaceuticals
San Francisco, CA
rowspan=2 valign="top" align="center" width="300px" Federated Department Stores, Inc.
Multiple Locations Nationwide
rowspan=2 valign="top" align="center" width="300px" - Multiple meeting spaces with videoconferencing: boardroom, videoconferencing room, two medium-sized conference rooms, and presentation room. All spaces had easy-to-use control systems, which integrated technology and facilitated communication within the organization, and with clients and vendors.
One of America’s premier national retailers, operating more than 850 Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s stores in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. TA provided audio/visual system specifications, and acceptance testing for thirty-four department stores’ multimedia upgrade projects.
Gateway Arch
St. Louis, MS
rowspan=2 valign="top" align="center" width="300px" Great Mall of the Bay Area
Milpitas, CA
rowspan=2 valign="top" align="center" width="300px" - Audio system design for tramcars, queue lines, and upper/lower load areas within Arch. Goal was to upgrade guest experience while developing methods for cross-selling different activities at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Also provided acoustic recommendations for lower load area.
Detailed review of the mall’s audio and paging system. Recommended changes in loudspeaker placement and programming adjustments to enhance intelligibility. Recommendations phased in as funding allows.
Hershey Park
Hershey, PA

Market Heights Apartments
San Francisco, CA

Provided a turnkey design and oversaw installation of the audio system for the Night Time Spectacular Laser Show.
Reviewed drawings and provided noise control and sound isolation recommendations which will enable project to comply with HUD noise insulation standards. The 46-unit apartment site overlooks the Highway 101 and 280 Interchange.
On Lok Larkin Senior Living
San Francisco, CA
rowspan=2 valign="top" align="center" width="300px" PG&E Headquarters
Milpitas, CA
rowspan=2 valign="top" align="center" width="300px" - Analysis of environmental and HVAC noise impacting a 30+ unit senior housing and community center building which overlooks a busy S.F. intersection. The facility includes dental and hospital services for the residents.
Audiovisual design for remodel of 2 main rooms located in an historic high-rise. Auditorium has raked seating for 500; ceiling-mounted projector displays, computer graphics and video, supported by distributed sound system and ADA hearing assistance system. Satellite feed allows corporate television division to use facility as remote site for corporate activities.
Pinnacle Systems
San Jose, CA

Riverside County Courthouse
Riverside, CA

Noise control for a large rooftop HVAC unit, room acoustics and sound isolation for a large office building remodel. The building has training rooms, a board and conference room, open-plan engineering areas and private offices. The client was concerned with controlling the transfer of noise between these areas because of the exposed roof structure design.
Seismic retrofit while maintaining historic quality. TA retained to ensure acoustics and audiovisual system design was successful. Acoustic concerns included reverberation and echoes caused by hard surfaces and the geometrical design of the main rotunda dome.
San Francisco Federal Building
San Francisco, CA

SAP Technology Solutions Center
Palo Alto, CA

A landmark project for the federal government, this building embodies a commitment to urban renewal and community spirit while providing a progressive working environment. Initiates a new generation of highly energy efficient federal projects by reducing overall energy consumption by as much as 40% below code requirements.
Recognized as a leader in providing collaborative business solutions for all types of industries and for every major market. Center provides appropriate technology to hold videoconferences, demonstrations, and training. Includes two Presentation/Video Conference Rooms, Demo Room/Theater, and Lobby/Entrance Display System.
St. Patrick’s Church
Las Vegas, NV

Turnberry Towers
Las Vegas, NV

Room acoustics to control echoes in a new church sanctuary. Acoustical recommendations included finish materials and angles, plus sound isolation. Other services covered mechanical noise and vibration control.
Acoustical consulting for this luxury high-rise. TA developed party wall, floor/ceiling constructions, and other sound isolations to help limit the amount of noise transferred between units.
Universal Studios Islands of Adventure: Spiderman
Orlando, FL

Acoustical evaluation and development of performance specification for dark ride. Sound isolation between scenes and control of mechanical noise and vibration critical to success of ride.


  • Personal Work:
    • Professional Education and Training Committee Award "Educator of the Year", 1996-97 InfoComm. Retrieved on 2008-06-05..
    • First Place - Systems and Facilities Design, 1991, project: CSA Audiovisual Presentation Studio
    • Award for Systems and Facilities Design, 1990, project: City of Fremont’s Council Chambers Audiovisual Upgrade
  • Themed Entertainment Association THEA Award:
    • Awarded Themed Entertainment Association THEA Outstanding Achievement Award for Paramount's King's Island "Tomb Raider: The Ride" 2002
    • Universal Studios "Amazing Adventures of Spiderman," 2000
    • Universal Studios "Islands of Adventure," 2000
    • Columbus Center of Science and Technology (COSI), audio, video and control system engineering services and acoustical design 2000
  • Building of America Award, 2007, project: The Mountain View Senior Center
  • Northern California Region’s Most Important New Construction/ Renovation, 2007, project: San Francisco Federal Office Building, General Service Administration
  • AIA Winner of Architecture & Excellence Award, 2007, project: Plaza Apartments
  • SUGEN, Inc., South San Francisco, Ca was awarded First Gold LEED Certified Biotech Lab, and was also awarded:
    • AIA San Mateo County/Sustainable San Mateo County Green Building Award, 2006
    • SAMCEDA Awards of Excellence, Environmental Action Award, 2005


  • “Sculpting Sound: Matching Music and Acoustics to Ambience,” Archi-Tech magazine, Jan-Feb 2005
  • “Practical Applications of Display Technology,” Church Production magazine, June 2008
  • “Buying a Videoconference System They'll Actually Use,” AV Technology magazine, May 2008
  • “Music Too Loud? Maybe...” Sound & Video Contractor, January 20, 2005
  • “Bloomingdale's Home and Furniture,” Retail Traffic magazine, May 1, 2004
  • “How to Optimize Your Presentation Environments,” Pro AV magazine, April 2004
  • “Morphosis: United States Federal Building,” Arcspace, October 14, 2007
  • “Waking Up the Neighbors: Bring on the Stadium Noise – But Quietly,” Stadia magazine, January 2002

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