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Education   Product Design   Solutions Studio

Dynamic Alternatives to Traditional Gypsum Board Ceilings & Walls

July 27, 2021
“Optical Retail and Office Reception” Featuring: Vapor® Bloom by Arktura with Soft Sound®, InLine and Backlighting Accessories

For years, builders have created ceilings and walls using a variety of different gypsum boards and hanging techniques. Whether you simply nail the boards to the rafters or you create a false ceiling, gypsum board — also known as wallboard, plasterboard, sheet rock, and buster board — has long been the standard in building materials. 

However, as design and manufacturing has evolved, many dynamic alternatives to gypsum boards have been developed. So while gypsum panels are a great way to add acoustic and stylistic benefits to a space, other materials can bring additional benefits to a building’s design.

Before we get into alternatives, let’s take a closer look at gypsum board ceilings and walls.

What is Gypsum Board?

Gypsum board is commonly known as sheetrock or plasterboard. It gets its name because it has a natural gypsum core with a paper facing on either side. It can be sold in large sheets designed for nailing straight to the joists in the ceiling or as perforated gypsum ceiling tiles that can be suspended across the ceiling and applied to studs for walls and partitions.

Gypsum board is available in several different variations. This includes some that are best suited for use in spaces like bathrooms, others that have greater fire resistance, great for commercial kitchens or multifamily residential projects, or perforated acoustic gypsum board for spaces that see high noise levels.

Downsides of Perforated Gypsum Board

Perforated gypsum board is a useful, versatile material, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right choice for every situation. There may be instances where gypsum board is the right choice for a project, such as for walls and even some ceilings. Unfortunately, it does have some downsides:

Prone to Damage

Gypsum does not have high tensile strength. It’s brittle and inflexible when dry. This means that it can be easily punctured and the paper facing can be easily torn. This is true even when it’s been given a skim coat of plaster and paint. 

Uninspiring Aesthetic

Aesthetics have become a driving force behind the appearance, layout, and materials used in many designs, and gypsum boards can struggle to meet these types of needs. At its best, it provides a perfectly flat, plain ceiling. While some types of gypsum board can be painted, drop ceilings are typically not painted. This can lead to a mismatch in the aesthetic of the space, lowering its visual appeal. 

Limited Acoustic Performance 

Numerous studies have been carried out on the acoustic performance of gypsum board. It is possible to improve acoustics with perforated gypsum board, but standard gypsum requires using two layers that are installed with a small gap between them.

To increase the acoustic performance of sheetrock panels, the ACOUSTIBuilt Seamless Acoustical Ceiling and Wall System by Armstrong Worldwide Industries allows you to reap the benefits of acoustic performance without the extra layer. This system looks like drywall, but it offers acoustic performance that is superior to standard wallboard or plasterboard.

Susceptible to Moisture

Gypsum board tends to sag over time. This is particularly true in areas where humidity or moisture are present. It is possible to purchase gypsum board that has been treated to help it resist moisture. However, this type of gypsum board is more expensive and is designed primarily for wall usage. 

The Best Alternatives to Gypsum Board

There are many alternatives to a standard perforated gypsum board ceiling. Many of them have a dynamic appearance and provide additional benefits such as enhanced acoustic control and durability. 

Custom Acoustic Panels Made From Recycled Materials

Arktura Solutions Studio Vitol faceted ceiling made with Soft Sound
“Vitol” Houston, TX, PDR Corp., Featuring: Arktura Solution Studio®

Acoustic panels made from recycled materials can be a fantastic alternative to gypsum board. The main benefit is that this material can be fashioned into a variety of appearances and colors. This means that the ceiling doesn’t have to be a flat expanse of white or a generic drop-ceiling for acoustic control anymore. 

Close ups of Arktura Solutions Studio Vitol faceted ceiling made with Soft Sound
“Vitol” Houston, TX, PDR Corp., Featuring: Arktura Solution Studio®

These ceilings are dynamic, eye-catching and excellent at helping to control acoustics in the room. 

Backlit Torsion Spring Panels

“Veeva Systems” Barcelona, Spain, Brereton Architects, Featuring: Vapor® Trail by Arktura
“Veeva Systems” Barcelona, Spain, Brereton Architects, Featuring: Vapor® Trail by Arktura

A stunning alternative to a perforated gypsum ceiling is a torsion spring panel ceiling. These backlit ceilings have a digital, geometric, or biomorphic appearance that are right at home in today’s fast-paced businesses, and wellness-focused environments. 

The lighting is integrated into the backer, which is ideal for darker spaces that don’t have any natural light. Since the lighting is diffused through the entire panel, it provides even, ambient lighting throughout the room. 

“Optical Retail and Office Reception” Featuring: Vapor® Bloom by Arktura with Soft Sound®, InLine and Backlighting Accessories
“Optical Retail and Office Reception” Featuring: Vapor® Bloom by Arktura with Soft Sound®, InLine and Backlighting Accessories

The panels can be used anywhere as an alternative to gypsum board across walls and ceiling, and if you choose, you can also swap out the backlighting for a sound-absorbing backer. This gives you the opportunity to decide what would benefit the space the most, both in terms of appearance and in terms of function. 

Delta Drop® 2x4 full circle with backlight installed above elevator lobby.“Wiley” Hoboken, NJ, TPG Architecture, Eric Laignel (Photographer), Featuring: Delta Drop® 2×4 Ceiling Panels by Arktura

This installation doesn’t need to be installed flat, either. If you want a ceiling with some life and movement to it, you can use a material with a torsion spring base that comes in differently shaped panels. This can add fluidity to the entire room. 

A Geometric, Acoustic Drop Ceiling

Arktura SoftGrid Flux
“Office Welcome Area” Featuring: SoftGrid® – Flux by Arktura

If a design calls for a drop ceiling, there are numerous options available that stand head and shoulders above a suspended gypsum board ceiling. Acoustic ceilings are available in a wide range of interesting patterns and styles. 

“Quiet Library” Featuring: SoftGrid® Deca by Arktura
“Quiet Library” Featuring: SoftGrid® Deca by Arktura

They allow you to mix color and pattern in a way that traditional drop ceilings don’t. This makes the ceiling the true “fifth wall” of the room and helps the entire space take on a new dimension of interest and visual display. 

“Calm, Open Office Space” Featuring: SoftGrid® Deca by Arktura

It’s also possible to mix in areas of solid acoustic paneling right where it’s needed, like this blend of SoftGrid® Deca and SoundStar® from Arktura. This can help control sound in office environments, reception areas, and other spaces that may have a greater need for acoustics than others.

A Blend of Acoustic Performance and Integrated Lighting

Arktura Trace Straight
“Kaiser Permanente Largo” Lanham, MD, Callison RTKL, Alain Jaramillo (Photographer), Featuring: Trace® Straight by Arktura

If you need both lighting and acoustic control for your ceilings, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds. The majority of Arktura’s torsion panel systems, including the Trace® line, offer the ability to combine InLine lighting with acoustic backers. This helps improve both the ambient lighting of the room and the sound quality, all in one attractive installation. 

Arktura VaporSoft Cora, White with Heather Grey Soft Sound® Backer Wall, Backlit Ceiling
“Commercial Office Space” Featuring: VaporSoft® Cora by Arktura

This installation combines acoustic facing with backlighting — a feature achievable through Arktura’s VaporSoft® line. This panel integrates Soft Sound® acoustic material right onto walls and ceilings, delivering noise reduction even without acoustic backers. This installation can be used to cover large areas, providing a seamless look that unifies the space. When the planes of the wall and ceiling change, lighting and acoustics can change with it without breaking the pattern or mitigating acoustic potential. This VaporSoft® Cora installation does this to provide a more dynamic and cohesive appearance across a vast space.

VaporSoft Trail with Frosted Backer and Arkluma™ Backlight Integrated Lighting installed in office.
“Open Office” Featuring: VaporSoft® Trail by Arktura

There are multiple styles to choose from, so you can find a look that will enhance the visual aesthetics of the space while enhancing its function at the same time. 

Geometric Trellis and Coffer Modules

“Trustwave” Chicago, IL, Partners by Design, Tom Harris Architectural Photography, Featuring: SoundStar® by Arktura
“Trustwave” Chicago, IL, Partners by Design, Tom Harris Architectural Photography, Featuring: SoundStar® by Arktura

To control noise in a large space, the SoundStar® ceiling system features hexagonally shaped cellular baffles that disrupt sound’s ability to travel. This system offers a scalable way to add geometric depth, and it works as a perfect contrast with other rounded elements of the room. And because they are 100% recyclable, you can dampen noise sustainably. 

“Elegant Bar Seating” Featuring: SoftSpan® 48 by Arktura
“Elegant Bar Seating” Featuring: SoftSpan® 48 by Arktura

Alternatively, for a more traditional coffered ceiling look, this SoftSpan® grid can enhance acoustic performance while letting natural light permeate below. With a realistic wood look, this alternative to gypsum board aligns with the neutral decor and holistic elements of the space.

Upgrade Your Space With Dynamic Wall & Ceiling Solutions

With so many different ceiling solutions on the market today, you can upgrade to a product that’s going to enhance the space you’re creating, allowing you to reap the benefits of a ceiling or wall that is both functional and beautiful. 

Contact the design specialists at Arktura today for more information on a dynamic ceiling or wall installation.

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