Acoustic ambitions for a better built environment – part 1.


A sound strategy.

There has never been a time when the real-world performance of buildings has come under closer scrutiny. In the field of acoustics, we fully recognise the part that our technical discipline plays in supporting our firm’s North Star of people-centric and planet-conscious design, but how do we extend this even further?

Acoustics is the science of sound. Sound falls into two distinct categories: physical sound and perceived sound. Ultimately, of course, it is the perception of sound which matters in delivering a better built environment in terms of human outcomes. It is, therefore, only right we should start with perceived sound as our primary driver in designing buildings that we can proudly declare to be acoustically high-performing. To deliver such human outcomes with confidence, while simultaneously delivering better outcomes for the planet, ultimately requires an intimate appreciation of the underlying science.

Human health and wellbeing
The clear starting point for considering the acoustics of a high-performance building lies in the comfort and wellbeing of its users. However, except for buildings such as auditoria or recording studios for which acoustics is their prime function, this is – somewhat perversely – where good acoustic design should be ‘silent’. Building users should be immersed in an environment that is subconsciously conducive to them feeling and delivering at their very best. Whether this is relaxing at home, working in an office, teaching, learning or researching in an academic establishment, recovering or providing care in a medical establishment, or whatever the building’s prime function may be, it should be taken as read that the very highest performing buildings should provide an optimally designed acoustic environment as standard.

In the above, human outcomes are considered at two levels. The first is the direct impact of indoor environmental quality on human health and wellbeing. In this regard, sound is one of the key indoor environmental factors needing to be considered, not forgetting that vibration also falls within the technical discipline of acoustics.

Poorly controlled acoustic environments can lead to disturbance, annoyance and stress, leading to raised blood pressure, even at relatively low amplitudes, while exposure to higher levels of sound can cause direct and irreversible damage to hearing.

The second human outcome is the degree to which the acoustic environment promotes productive output, recognising that ‘productivity’ may be defined quite differently for any given building.

Fundamental acoustic design considerations, leading to improved human outcomes, include the control of:

  • Sound levels in rooms, be this from noise sources within the building itself such as ventilation systems or the intrusion of external noise, typically from transportation sources
  • Reverberant sound build-up within rooms
  • Speech privacy and speech intelligibility
  • Sound transmission between adjacent internal spaces
  • Sound transmission through the building façade

In part 2, we will focus on human-centric commitments, and the sectors and building types where acoustics should not be a ‘silent’ partner to good design, but instead loudly ‘shout’ the presence of the highest quality acoustic design to become front and centre of the building users’ thoughts.

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