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Acoustically Incompetent: The Need For Architects To Learn To Listen…
The issue is well understood, and the knowledge to solve the challenge already exists
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Many architects in the U.S. live exclusively in a visual world. It’s often all about the pretty picture in a magazine and on the web. Many European architects live in a visual and aural world and realize that the design of a facility affects the quality of sound reproduction.

Our architectural schools do not teach the subject properly, if at all. One of our more prestigious architectural schools’ offers a total of 123 total classes in its curriculum. Only one of them, “Design for the Luminous and Sonic Environment” appears to have an emphasis on the aural environment. Even in that one we take a back seat to lighting. Typical.

Ever looked an architect straight in the eye and asked them what they budgeted for interior acoustical treatments up front? Nine times out of ten the answer is nothing.

Architects routinely ignore their acoustical consultants input, and put in them in the unenviable position of having to justify their recommendations ad nauseum. Ever see a lighting designer having to justify their lamp selections in a similar manner? Nor have I.

Our architects need to better understand which materials have the best acoustical absorption. Wood is good, but not great for absorption. Fiberglass is two to three times better. There is no building code compliance enforcement for intelligible speech, thus it is not a priority for many architects. There is for fire sprinklers.

If the sprinkler system doesn’t work, the building doesn’t get a Certificate of Occupancy. True, there are some emergency evacuation standards that are just beginning to address the issue, but the lack of an acoustic code means a lack of enforcement. We regulate everything from tire tread wear to pajama flammability, but not basic audio quality in our society.

More expensive project labor means less expensive materials are used. Seen much granite used in buildings recently? Less expensive materials imply lower weight materials, resulting in less capability to attenuate sound transmission between rooms.

Perhaps some of that is our fault as sound system suppliers. My suspicion is that few in our profession are aware of how to calculate speech intelligibility. We have no control on the amount of fiberglass or diffusion installed in a building. Many have never bought any absorption or diffusion in their entire career.’

Providing a quality aural experience requires a quality acoustical space first and then a quality sound system to perform well. Go straight to “Audio Jail,” do not pass “Go,” and do not collect $200 if you think you can get away with an all-hard-surfaced interior, no matter how tightly you control your loudspeaker directivity.

In the meantime, architects in the U.S. need to step up to the plate. The issue is well understood, and the knowledge to solve the challenge already exists. No more research needs to be done. Get yourselves properly trained.

The first quantitative acoustically engineered building opened to the public in 1900! Boston Symphony Hall has been making money for a century now, and it’s well past time our architects use technology properly to improve acoustical performance throughout North America in every single building.

Remember Zappa’s Law: There are two things that are universal: Hydrogen and Stupidity. The inability to communicate successfully in our facilities falls in the latter.

John Mayberry has workedin and around the A/V business for more than a quarter of a century. Find him online at here, and check out his blog here.


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