Architectural Acoustics


Architecture and interior design both affect and are affected by a diversity of factors that one might not give much thought to, despite being very much influenced by them. Light, materials, and colors are among, if not the only obvious factors that immediately come to mind; a highly significant factor that does not, yet has tremendous effect on the functionality of any building, is acoustics.

Having had the opportunity to travel quite a bit over the past couple of decades, I have had a diversity of experiences with hotel rooms, as well as entertainment theaters. In both cases, the role of acoustics has been quite evident to me. In the first, more personal experience, I noticed that the higher the level of the accommodation I experienced, the quieter my room was, and vice versa. The quieter my room was, the better isolated I felt from my surroundings, and the safer I felt, and vice versa. In the second case, however, the best, most entertaining experiences involved feeling completely immersed in the sounds of the performance on display.

Indeed, good architectural acoustics is not a luxury, it is a necessity. It impacts everything; from employee productivity in the office settings, to performance quality in auditoriums, to the market value of real estate. While the science behind sound is well understood, using that science to create desired acoustical performance within a specific building or room is complex.

Sound is defined as a vibration in an elastic medium, which can be any material that has the ability to return to its normal state after being deflected by an outside force. The more elastic a substance, the better it is able to conduct sound waves. Lead, for instance, is very inelastic, and therefore, a poor sound conductor; steel, on the other hand, is highly elastic and an excellent sound conductor. Sound vibrations travel through elastic mediums in the form of small pressure changes alternating above and below the static (at rest) nature of the conducting material.

Architectural acoustics is managing how both airborne and impact sound is transmitted and controlled within a building. While virtually every material within a room affects sound levels to one degree or another, wall partitions, ceiling systems, and floor/ceiling assemblies are the primary elements that designers use to control sound. Sound moves through building spaces in a variety of ways; most commonly, through air, but it actually travels through many physical objects faster and with less loss of energy.

Sound reflection occurs when sound waves bounce off surfaces. Concave surfaces tend to concentrate or focus reflected sound in one area, while convex surfaces do the opposite, dispersing sound in multiple directions. Sound reverberation is the persistence of sound reflection after the source of the sound has ceased; it can have both a positive and negative effect in architectural design.

For example, specifying highly reflective ceiling panels directly above the stage area in an auditorium will help direct sound toward specific seating areas; thus, enhancing the room’s acoustical performance. However, that same reflective performance will become a negative factor if highly reflective wall and ceiling materials are installed in the rear of the auditorium. That is because the sound reflections from the rear of the room take too long to reach the audience, resulting in a distracting echo effect.

Sound can also diffract, or bend and flow around an object, or through a small space or opening; this provides sound waves the ability to “squeeze” through very small openings, such as under and around doors, with little loss of energy. These are commonly referred to as “flanking” or “leaking” paths; they can be controlled by the proper application of acoustical sealant.

A primary goal of a wall partition, ceiling system, and/or floor/ceiling assembly design is to minimize the flow of airborne and impact sound through the use of special materials, methods of construction and designs. Reducing sound transmission through wall partitions can be accomplished in various ways, including isolation (the separation of adjoining wall partition surfaces), mass, absorption, decoupling (inelasticity), and the elimination of flanking paths (sound leakage).

When creating acoustical specifications, every space presents a unique acoustical challenge. An employment office, for example, may require all-confidential private offices, while a bank may warrant varying levels of speech privacy. Successful acoustical design is a detail-oriented process, both in terms of specification and construction. Careful material and systems specifications are imperative, as are good construction practices. The key to success is careful attention to detail during all phases of planning, design, and construction.

Check out the following series of Videos to learn more:

Also, check out this link about "Ten Buildings with Extraordinary Acoustics".


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