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Architectural acoustics: buildings that sound as good as they look

31 March 2020

Understand the science of sound and get an insight into Architectural Acoustics from experts. Every component of building construction has an impact on acoustical characteristics. To begin with, it is important to understand the principles of architectural acoustics. So, let’s get the basics sorted – does that sound good?

Article illustration, Building, Sketch, Architectural Acoustics, Noise, Acoustics

What is Architectural Acoustics?

Architectural Acoustics is the science and engineering of achieving good sound within a building. It is the interaction between people and sound - both indoors and outdoors. It includes the study of homes and buildings and the design of these structures for optimal acoustic performance.

We posed a few simple questions to our panelists Jasper Spigt and Camilla Casiccia. Jasper is an architect and partner at architecten Van Mourik. He designs for interiors and urban spaces, keeping the environment and society in mind. Camilla is an interior architect at architecten Van Mourik. Hear them share their experience.

Is it possible to design a building or interior for all our 5 senses?

Definitely, it is possible to design a space for all the senses. Primarily, we design for sight, as it is the most appealing. Stimulating some of the other senses, such as through tactile experiences, acoustics, and warmth, always play a secondary role in creating a favourable mood for a given space. However, the sense of smell isn’t at the forefront of your mind during the design process.

Although the sensory aspects are important, we work on the overall experience and atmosphere of the space. The five senses are the underlying factors that designers consider, but the emotions that the space evokes is a combination of these, which we usually refer to as the sixth sense. Jasper says: “designers usually have this sixth sense and can compose it delicately.”

Ultimately, it’s true that unique spaces are a unique combination of the five senses.

 

Designers usually have this sixth sense and can compose it delicately.

Jasper Spigt

Architect

Why do Architectural Acoustics matters in homes and buildings?

Sound definitely defines the character of a space. Do you want it to be a space where people focus, converse, discuss or give speeches?

Acoustics affects our wellbeing and the environment around us. Bad acoustics can ruin your conversation in a restaurant. Would you go back to a restaurant where you couldn’t hear your companion properly – too noisy, right? When the acoustics of a space are sound, it influences the overall ambience of the space. Today, even neuroscientists talk about the importance of acoustics and its increasing relevance.

How do you explain acoustics to a client?

The topic of acoustics design is subjective and clients have their own perception about it. Nowadays, people are more aware of it, but we have to scale it down to an objective point of view. We can definitely talk about the materials required, but we have to categorically explain how sound influences the space, and then provide solutions.

The bright side is, at some point, everyone relates to the example of a noisy restaurant. Also, it differs between a professional client and someone who wants to build their own house. Awareness levels vary and have to deal with each client's needs and wishes objectively.

Camilla notes: “a high percentage of people think the noise in a restaurant is due to the number of people present, not the acoustics. So awareness is also a key role in our job.”

 

A high percentage of people think the noise in a restaurant is due to the number of people present, not the acoustics. So awareness is also a key role in our job.

Camilla Casiccia

architect

At which stage of the design process do you consider Architectural Acoustics?

Speaking from an interior perspective, it depends on the space we are designing, and the type of project we are working on. In general, we think about it from the beginning. In some cases, we are redesigning; we are reworking on the current acoustics. For example, if we are integrating a library area, it has to be a quiet area. So, we work on it from the initial phase itself.

When we have the freedom to design, we design based on the dynamics of the space – whether it is for intimacy, conferences or theatres. Some spaces also portray a specific identity, so we combine this with the acoustics. It also depends on whether it’s an interior or exterior space. But there is always a beautiful design for every space and every sound.

How does Architectural Acoustics affect the design of a building or interior? Does including Architectural Acoustics in design give any limitations?

Yes, it does. For example, if we have a building near a railway track then we design the acoustics in such a way that the building is not influenced by it. We start composing both the interior and exterior for optimal acoustics.

We have to do it very delicately, as we just don’t want to create a façade that blocks the sound. With the technology available today, it’s possible to maintain a high level of acoustics design and beautiful architecture. However, we have to keep a balance between costs and design. There are limitations, but also opportunities.

We have to give people the freedom to choose – they should be able to be a part of the city and also live in their own solitude.

This year is the Year of Sound. Where do we stand today when it comes to architecture and design in relation to noise pollution?

Today, we have the solutions and technology to support Architectural Acoustics for every space.

On the other hand, noise pollution is also getting worse. We have to be aware of how buildings can be optimally constructed to eliminate this noise. We have to consider public spaces and their relation to buildings, and how both thrive with optimal acoustics.

Noise pollution has to take priority, so we must educate people about acoustics as it is integral to a sustainable world.

How do you think things will look like in 2050?

For the World Health Organization, noise pollution is number two on the list, while air pollution is number one. In the coming years, we have to be more aware of the effect of noise in all kinds of spaces and the growing importance of acoustics in building design.

Nowadays, noise is not defined as ‘unwanted sound’ but ‘unwanted sound without getting any hearing damage’. This helps us point out that noise is unhealthy and can be disturbing at various levels. Today, even universities are discussing the harmful effects of noise and best practices to integrate acoustic building design. That’s why, more than ever, we need architectural design and building construction that consider these aspects. After all, we all want to contribute towards a healthy sound environment.