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  • Samantha Hathway

How Important is Acoustics in Architecture?

Acoustics and architecture as disciplines definitely go hand in hand. This is especially true for sensitive spaces such as schools, restaurants, music venues, hospitals, special needs facilities and – in recent years – dementia care homes. There’s even a term for the blend of disciplines, that encompasses both building and room acoustics – Architectural Acoustics.

What is Architectural Acoustics?

Architectural Acoustics combines engineering, design and science to ensure good sound quality within a building. If you think about it, every space requires different acoustic conditions in order to perform optimally. In fact, it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Employee productivity, happiness living within a home, the success of a nightclub and sound quality in a cinema all depend on a specific blend of architecture and acoustics. What works in a concert hall won’t be good in a restaurant. Sound bouncing around a space can be very disconcerting when you’re having a meal and there’s nothing worse than not being able to hear your fellow diners. This is where structural and interior design can be used to soften and dampen sound, absorbing unwanted noise. In contrast, good acoustics in a concert hall will require a combination of sound absorption and hard surfaces to reflect sound, ensuring an enriched, immersive hearing experience.

When should Architectural Acoustics be considered?

This will very much depend upon the type of space being worked on, but it’s always best to consider it at the beginning of the design process. This avoids any costly reworking of designs and untimely retrofits to make the space fit for purpose. A good Acoustic Consultant is also essential, as they will know how to work with the architect and construction team to maximise sound quality, ensuring the building and any internal spaces are beautifully designed for sound. This includes masking unwanted external noises as well as creating a healthy sound environment within the building or individual space.

How is sound quality optimised?

Architectural Acoustics manages and optimises both airborne and impact sound. While sound is most commonly transmitted through the air – by a human voice, barking dog or ringing telephone – it is also transmitted via impact sound, such as footsteps or a slamming door. By blending the disciplines, solutions can be found to negate almost every potential noise disturbance and maximise sound quality within a space. So it’s not all about improving how sound travels, it’s also about minimising noise disturbance, and this is really important.

Noise is defined as ‘unwanted sound’ demonstrating how damaging unwanted noise can be to your health – and not just in terms of hearing loss, but also mental health and wellbeing. Indeed, the World Health Organization lists noise pollution as the second most polluting factor in today’s society, after air pollution. This is why it’s essential to ensure a healthy sound environment within homes, public and commercial spaces.

Architectural Acoustics achieves this by considering two aspects of sound transmission:

  1. Sound insulation – this is all about insulating sound from passing through walls, ductwork, ceilings and floors, spotting weak areas and soundproofing them accordingly.

  1. Room acoustics – this is all about the internal space, and the materials used to diffuse, absorb or reflect sound.

A key metric is the Reverberation Time. This is the time taken for a sound to decay within a space, and is known as RT60. Shorter RTs of 1 second or less are ideal for quieter settings such as classrooms, while longer RTs of 1-2 seconds are desirable for a rich listening experience, for example in a concert hall, music venue, theatre or nightclub.

Measures to amplify or dampen sound

There are a number of measures that can be used to manage and optimise airborne and impact transmission of sound. Each is specifically designed to dampen or amplify sound, depending on the unique requirements of the space:

  • Zoning – Within a building, not all rooms will have the same acoustic needs as this is where zoning comes in. For example, a boardroom will have different needs to a mezzanine, and offices will have different requirements to a ‘kick back’ break out zone.

  • External and internal walls – to minimise unwanted structure-borne sound within a building, there are a number of measures that can be used. These include: soundproofing between double-skin external walls, hanging suspended ceilings to create an air gap and installing soundproofing compounds within subfloors.

  • Other building elements – just as the walls themselves need to be soundproofed accordingly, it’s also important to consider the positioning of air conditioning ductwork and electrical sockets, and ensuring windows are double or triple glazed.

  • Circulation – Just as rooms have specific requirements, so do corridors and access routes and the way people will use them. Designing and soundproofing these spaces is also imperative to the overall success of a building.

  • Materials and furniture – within a room, hard surfaces will reflect sound and soft furnishings will absorb and soften sound, and this is where internal design is as important as the build itself to ensure a space performs well. Carpets, resilient underlay and curtains will all absorb and dampen sound; whereas hardwood or tiled floors and hard surfaces will all reflect and amplify sound. Likewise, sofas and upholstered chairs can be used by designers to soften sound transmission, and provide additional acoustic control.

Government Legislation

Architectural Acoustics isn’t just a nice to have, it’s actually an essential component of the design and build process. It’s legislated for in Document E of the Building Regulations, which covers both impact and airborne transmission of noise between buildings and internal rooms. It’s an essential part of building control legislation in place in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and sets out strict criteria for sound insulation for homes and schools. A good Acoustic Consultant or Acoustic Engineer can guide you through this process, ensuring your development project remains in line with Government guidelines and legislation, including Document E, as well as British Standards such as BS 4142 and BS 8233.

If you need help with your building or internal design project, and want to ensure an optimal sound environment, then get in touch today. Our team of experts are on hand to help at all stages of the process – from design and planning approval to acoustic testing of completed spaces. For help within London and Greater London, contact us on 020 7859 4530. For the South East, call our Reading office on 0118 207 7324. Alternatively, get in touch via

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