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7 Design Tips for Best Architectural Acoustics

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © Ale_lobo | Dreamstime

Architectural design requires that acoustics be well thought out and coordinated. The sound spectrum must remain clear without portions distorted or missing. The paper, Acoustics and Sound Systems in Architectural Design, emphasizes how acousticians should be part of the design team early on. The author describes how it is important to avoid overlapping sound waves that project into a common space – this interference is what can distort the sound spectrum.(1)

The following are 7 additional design tips to achieve the best architectural acoustics within a space. These principles highlight some of the most informative ideas found within Acoustics and Sound Systems in Architectural Design for best aural experience.

1) Watch out for SOUND REFLECTIONS. Straight surfaces reflect sounds back into the central space making sound clarity muddy.

2) Select ACOUSTICAL TREATMENT carefully. Different materials absorb sound frequencies differently. Make sure your acoustical treatments are absorbing the right sound frequencies.

3) Diminish ECHOES when necessary. Be aware that sounds traveling within 30 milliseconds of each other are perceived without echo. Sounds traveling after the 30 millisecond threshold become echoes of the original sound.

4) Don’t let other building systems get in the way. NOISE CONTROL is important to keep in check as other building systems (like HVAC systems) operate. Keep such clashing noises to a minimum.

5) Keep objects or other OBSTRUCTIONS out of the way. Objects that obstruct a sound path can block high frequency sounds. (Low frequency sounds can bend around objects.)

6) Get good PATTERN CONTROL. Make sure sound systems for a room get good sound coverage. This will prevent feed-back and other sound distortions.

7) For out-of-the-way listening areas get DISTRIBUTED SOUND SYSTEMS. Such “delay-fill” speakers operate with an electronic delay so the sound matches and is synchronized.

In the end, it is important to make sure that the architectural acoustics match the architectural function and aesthetic value of a particular project. I remember visiting a hospital where the TV sound was obstructed by an HVAC vent. That simple sound collision can make for quite an uncomfortable hospital stay. Similarly, you should make certain that sound travels only when you want it to. Office conversations that needlessly travel to employee office spaces can be quite a distraction.

Involve your acoustician early and coordinate design efforts to avoid uncomfortable and sometimes painful aural sensations. Architectural acoustics are important beyond auditoriums, theaters and religious spaces.


(1) Kamlet, Rick. Acoustics and Sound Systems in Architectural Design. Archi-Tech. April 2005.





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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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