Why Acoustics Matter in Architectural Design

Sound moves like ripples in water. It bounces off surfaces and moves in multiple directions, affecting our acoustic experience, whether in a meeting at the office or listening to Chopin on vinyl at home. The way sound is absorbed, reflected, and diffused plays a significant role in maintaining a pleasant and healthy environment. 

Poor acoustics can disturb our focus, exacerbate anxiety, increase stress levels and even cause blood pressure problems. However, acoustics are often deprioritised in the process of designing a building. Often, the primary focus is to make the room silent rather than making it sound nice. Here’s why acoustics matter in architectural design.

From amphitheatres to private homes

Even ancient architects understood the value of designing with acoustics in mind. Just look at those majestic amphitheatres in the foothills of Greece or Italy. Thousands of spectators could watch and listen to what was unfolding on the stage. It may not have been perfect, but it was a start.

The relevance of good acoustics goes beyond theatre or concert halls. Let us fast forward to modern times and private homes. Back in the 1800s, apartments and houses were silent as sound would get absorbed by heavy curtains, plushy sofas and armchairs, grandfather clocks and carpets on walls. 

Today, people are moving away from clutter at home, opening up their spaces to let in light and lightness. Emptier rooms with limited items bring on that fresh Bauhaus look, but they also have an increased reverberation time, making acoustics highly relevant even in a private setting

The new trends of minimalism in houses, schools, and offices challenge architects to rethink how they approach acoustics early in the design phase.

What affects acoustics?

Acoustics are affected by the shape and size of a space, construction materials and furnishing. A concert hall, a school, a kindergarten, or a bustling office would have a completely different acoustical setup. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to controlling sound. 

A space with hard surfaces such as concrete walls will have lots of reverberation. Speech, music, or other sounds will bounce off and echo in the room, creating a noisy, tiring environment. Meanwhile, absorbers such as carpets, padded walls or ceilings will reduce reverberation, creating a tranquil, welcoming environment.

The secret is to find that perfect balance between silence and sound in a given space. You want sound absorption, but you also want sound reflection and diffusion. And each will have to be at varying degrees depending on what building you are designing. In other words, what works for an airport, will not work for a classroom.

Forside Midlertidig

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Good acoustics vs poor acoustics

Studies show that poor acoustics increase blood pressure, stress, and anxiety levels. Sound can even affect taste - loud background noise suppresses how we perceive saltiness or sweetness.

A bad acoustical setup will make a place uncomfortable, unwelcoming, and unusable. Poor sound transmission results in issues such as echo or reverberation. Sounds may be too loud, too silent, or distorted, leading to problems in speech intelligibility, affecting relaxation and overall auditory comfort.

An excellent acoustic environment manifests as one that is comfortable to be in. You cannot see, smell or touch sound, but you will feel when it is lacking or too much. In an office, good acoustics translate to a pleasant work setting allowing employees to chat, have meetings or focus on independent tasks. In a school, teachers do not need to scream to reach the last rows in the classroom, and viewers can watch movies undisturbed by extraneous sounds at the cinema.

Positive acoustic surroundings contribute to our overall well-being, help us concentrate, communicate, and live our lives. In a well-designed space, visual and auditory elements meet to provide balance and coherence. There is no good architecture without good acoustics.


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The sound of the room is the sound of life

When designing a space or a building, it is easy to see how it will look visually. The same cannot be said about sound. We cannot hear a room. All the same, acoustics should be an essential aspect of the design process early on. Only then can a room end up looking and sounding great.

How to achieve acoustic success? The goal is to go beyond muffling and muting sounds and balance acoustics to match the room’s activities. It is about finding the sound of a given space. Finding the sound of its life.

  • Library at the University of Mons by Atelier d'Architecture & d'Urbanisme Dupire & François, Belgium Contur Unity
  • Flemalle kindergarten, Belgium Contur Unity

Make acoustics a part of the building’s story

Sound spreads in all directions reflecting on ceilings, walls, floors, and other surfaces. 3D thinking is needed to cover all the bases when it comes to managing sound.

Evaluate what material you will need to support acoustic design goals. Can this material absorb sound at different frequencies? What is the absorption value? What other functionalities are required? Then, consider how much material is needed to achieve the desired reverberation time and where it should be placed.

For example, any acoustic design can benefit from perforated gypsum. And you do not need to compromise between functionality, aesthetics and making choices which contributes positively to more sustainable solutions. Acoustic solutions made from perforated gypsum materials absorb sound through perforation holes and have a very even absorption profile. Thanks to their robustness, perforated acoustic panels can be placed on ceilings and walls. Panels can be curved or folded into complex shapes to suit any space.

It is a lot easier to implement a proper acoustic setup from the beginning than to try and fix it later. Consider sound at the start of the design process, including materials and placement. Make acoustics a part of the building’s story.

Sunita Yadav Web

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