The acoustics of a building play as important of a role as the actual design. Unfortunately, many architects don’t see it this way. The acoustics are thought about late in the design when few changes can be made to optimize the acoustics – if they are thought about at all.
This has led to buildings with acoustics that take away from the overall feel of the building. Bringing in the acoustical component earlier in the design could immediately improve life for those inhabiting future buildings.
Does Sound Really Matter in Design?
Architects have a goal of making visitors to their buildings feel something. Whether that feeling is awe or relaxation, every part of the design should be angled towards bringing up that feeling.
The acoustics are an integral part of this. We already know that sounds can bring up an emotion. We hear the rain, and we experience calm or maybe fear. What we don’t understand is how the acoustics of a place shape how we feel about that place.
A study published in the journal Building Acoustics, wanted to answer the question of how acoustics can be used reinforce the emotional impact of a building. Algargoosh et al. also wanted to understand how cultural norms influenced the emotional impact.
Through a mix of self-reporting and physiological response analysis, researchers found that the acoustics of a building had a high impact on the intensity of an emotion. Cultural norms created a familiarity with sounds which had an impact on the interpretation of the acoustics – meaning you have to design a space with the local acoustics in mind.
Some places are going back and doing studies on the acoustical comfort of older buildings, like this one at the University City (UC), of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
In reviews like this one, the researchers analyze the current acoustic comfort of a building and develop architectural solutions to improve the acoustical conditions. While it’s great to go back and fix the acoustical problems with a building, it’s cheaper and more efficient to take care of the problem while the building is being designed.
Acoustics Need to Be Thought About Sooner
Some architects view acoustics as an afterthought – not part of the main design. Michael Ermann, a licensed architect, and professor at Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture wants to change that thought.
He thinks acoustical consultants shouldn’t be brought in at the end after the design is final. Architects have more impact on the ability to mitigate, enhance, or even shape and change sound by starting at the beginning of the design.
Ermann explains it this way in a podcast episode with Architect Magazine. First, picture a long hallway with a series of rooms. The rooms needed are a mechanical room, a concert hall, a lobby, and a bathroom.
Without thinking about acoustics, an architect might put the mechanical room next to the concert hall. Maybe they think it’s best to have the controls right next to the concert hall.
By doing this, they immediately lessen the quality of the concert hall. At this point, there is nothing that can be done to make the concert hall as quiet as it could have been without a mechanical room right next door. Unless, of course, the finalized design is redone.
This example is simple. Real life is more complex. By thinking about the acoustics at the beginning of the design, design decisions can be made that enhance the acoustics of a building – at no extra cost.