Semester 2 : Week 7~ Placing Practice-Visit to Acoustic Panel Manufacturer Holden, Rockwool, Volcanoes & Pods..

Acoustic panelling with Rockwool core.

I have been in contact with Dave Russell of Holden since May and it is only now due to exams (me) holidays and work (him), that I have got a round to the visit and a very interesting visit it was too. I am not sure how much it might feed into any direct outcome of the project but the spirit of it was hugely inspirational and I think a part of what the project was about-to connect with different fields, to push open doors and find oneself in unexpected places.

Dave was immediately responsive to my emails from the start and this played out in our visit too. He spent a more than generous three-quarters of an hour with me, showing and explaining the products that Holden uses as well as other available products.

From their website..

‘Holden provides design and installation of room envelopes using composite wall and ceiling panels,including window and door systems.’

While they also produce clean rooms, the insulated variety of space was of the most interest to me.


I had been considering designs for possible quiet booths which included curved elemensts but Dave immediately pointed out their panels were squared off and interlocking. I also assumed as the panels were made using thicknesses of Rockwool that transparent panels were also out. However Rockwool in itself is a fascinating material. When the wind blows across the slag created by an erupting volcano it creates tiny fibres. In Hawaii this was called Peles Hair after Pele the God of Volcanoes but Pele’s Hair appears near volcanoes world-wide. It appears on aerials, trees and other high places after an eruption. This inspired the development of technology which saw the  creation of fibre from molten limestone. Thus began the Rockwool industry.

DSC01819Rockwool seems to be not only completely natural-though I can’t speak for the processes involved-but is also eternally reusable and recyclable. As such it is practically an infinite resource. While it is not particularly attractive looking in its manufactured form-aside from the natural swirls like the swirls of far galaxies that can be detected in its cross section-it is a material I like for its natural origins and its technological applications. Why cant all materials be this amenable (I am thinking of you plastic!).

Bit of a Volcano…

It became apparent during the course of this tour that making a booth using existing acoustic panelling, using offcuts or commissioning a one-off would not be in my reach, nor would any of these options been particularly what I was looking for. However, chatting to Dave in his glass walled office provided some more things to think about. Firstly he expanded on his, and the company’s, modus operandi which we had touched on during the tour. In fact from the first we had moved on from the nuts and bolts of what Holden were doing to what was at the back of it:innovation. And innovation, Dave explained, did not spring from nowhere. Innovation was propelled by people who were given the space and the time to create. This meant that Holden, in for instance providing schools with the best possible acoustic solutions, was contributing to creating environments that enable rather than disrupt or distract the learning process.

Rockfon:This panelling may be used to line panels with Rockwool core in increase acoustic dampening.
Syhetic version of Rockwool…useful for certain applications which I can’t now remember!I think Rockwool is better at absorbing sound where this is better at decreasing bounce. Or something.

As a hearing impaired person the amount of effort put into hearing a lecture in a class room is quite immense but an effort also has to be made by the non-hearing impaired. If the acoustics in a room are bad, words bounce around and reverberate off surfaces. As Dave explained during the tour, a word can have a life span of a couple of seconds or more. Understanding something then is harder the worse the acoustics are. Dave also showed me some charts delineating the process of pinpointing what each customer wanst and also what they need as he said, Holden are committed to working flexibly with each customer to provide solutions….I think I could write copy for manufacturers at this point.

Not only were the customers of concern but Holden ensures all employees are involved in the process. For instance the previous day their acoustic panel installers had been in for a day long workshop and Dave himself has attended a day long presentation the previous week by Gerald Clarke from Rockfon who has also been helpful to me.

That there was a social theory underpinning what this company was doing maybe should not have surprised me but it did. This felxibility of thought and the creation of environments in which learning could happen, echoes (excuse the pun!) Jacques Rancieres theory of education as something that is not imposed but a path the learner creates under the loose hand of the educator i.e. The Ignorant Schoolmaster. This is allied to the idea of a flexible social structures I have been known to bang on about in recent posts.

Having work in an American owned factory I am familiar with forward thinking ideas, oands off management and inclusiveness. Indeed my near ten-year stint there, while it was hard, unrelenting, bottom of the pile work, has informed a lot of my thinking especially as I realised that this sort of management is the exception rather than the norm. Another (short) stint in an Israeli owned factory for instance was like being in prison. Why anyone runs a business like this is beyond me but people do. When I put this to Dave, who studied at Trinity, he said the aggressive, dictatorial model is running its course because it no longer works. I would like to think this is true but I fear the majority of company owners, that is those at the top of the pile, are far too stupid on the whole to make it so. Of course the rise of the inclusive model could also be the result of the theory that in making the rank and file a little bit comfortable by giving them perks, responsibility, just enough money to buy things like iPads, by promoting flexi-time and so on, keeps them enthrall, prevents revolution and shifts the responsibilty from employers to the worker allowing the employer to rake in more. But we won’t go there today…

Still that this whole conversation fed into all that I am learning on my MA was very gratifying. Maybe it is my addled brain making connections or maybe everything is actually connected.

The other thing Dave showed me was a big ‘Doh’ moment:office pods. Yes they are already in existence. Why my previous research did not thow them up I don’t know, except that the internet is a big place. It took Dave a half an hour or so to make this connection. I have actually been walking through the area where the premises of one of the seller sof these pods are on a regular basis too. Like I say Doh…or did I walk the idea into my subconscious…?

From O’Briens Office Systems website..

After I left Dave I want out to Cork Airport to see if I locate another acoustic installer recommended by Gerard Clarke of Rockfon. As it turn out no one was around but these chairs were near the site…


I will be seeing pods everywhere now. Anyway I realised I could use an existing, or even build one to perhaps dampen sound in a noisy place. Now to get someone to give me a pod…

Alternatively a simpler idea occurred-(gee was I making it difficult for myself?How unusual) when I was having a beer with a classmate in the beer garden of Tom Barry’s in Cork. While it was a lovely place there was speaker vomiting thrash metal into the air. I yelled at S that if I had a gun I would shoot the speaker down, then I realised…’Quiet Nights’. We have them in supermarkets for the autistic children now why not have them in pubs and cafes for hearing impaired and just older cranky people?Or just a quiet hour. For a start. Now to find a pub…

All in all I am really enjoying what these small connections and collaborations are throwing up, not only for this project but for future possibilities.


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