For the general public, acoustics might not seem like a hugely important aspect of architecture. However, when it comes to spaces like concert and lecture halls, acoustics are integral to the function of the room. Good acoustics ensure that music can be heard clearly throughout the space or that speech is intelligible and can be understood well. But aside from the more obvious applications, acoustics are beginning to be considered beyond performance spaces. Studies have shown that poor acoustics in offices can have a negative impact on employees’ wellbeing and productivity.
However, acoustics aren’t only important in regards to how sound behaves inside a room, but also how that sound is heard from outside of the room. Noise pollution is often a concern when designing buildings such as factories as they need to comply with noise pollution regulations. But treating a space’s acoustics all starts with accurately measuring its various acoustic properties.
As the father of architectural acoustics, Wallace Sabine’s early experiments gave us a rough way of calculating reverberation time within a space. By using just a set of organ pipes, a stopwatch and his ears he was able to time how long sounds reverberate for in a room. Thankfully, modern tools for acoustic measurement are significantly more refined. Being able to capture quantitative data and accurately measure reverberation time, clarity, definition and speech intelligibility is essential for architects to achieve good acoustics within a space.
Nowadays, acoustic engineers and architects make use of specialised software to measure the acoustic properties of a room rather than manually carrying out calculations. Generally these measurements are made by recording impulse responses in the room and inputting it into the software. This analyses the recording and gives back readings for different acoustic properties of the space.
Mobile Acoustic Technology
The ubiquity of mobile devices has provided the next logical step for acoustic software. There are plenty of apps out there targeted at the consumer market, such as hobbyist music producers wanting to correctly treat their home studios, but there are also a number of apps designed for architects and acoustics professionals.
Artnovion’s Impulso Architect iOS app is an example of this. The app is capable of recording and analysing impulse responses and giving reverberation times within the 500Hz-2kHz frequency range. The paid version of the app, Impulso Pro, is able to give readings for measurements such as C80, D50, STI and Bass Ratio. Both apps can use the built in microphone and speakers to record an impulse response but hooking them up to an external speaker or microphone will give more accurate measurements for low frequency content. The apps even suggests how you could acoustically treat the room with the use of Artnovion’s products.
Tools like this are good for fixing and treating a room after it’s been build, but what about predicting how a room will sound prior to its construction? Stirfry Software’s SoundSoup app allows users to design a virtual room and listen to how sound behaves within the room. The app even has the ability to listen to sound from outside the room for assisting with building acoustics and minimising noise pollution.
Using mobile acoustic technology has a couple of advantages over using specialised equipment and desktop software. Firstly, mobile apps are tapping into widely available devices that are familiar to the majority of people. In addition, mobile apps are generally significantly cheaper than desktop software. For example, SoundSoup is £14.99 while Artnovion’s Impulso Pro is only £2.99.
VR and 3D Audio in Architecture
VR has been one of the big technological buzzwords of the last few years with disparate industries trying to find ways to incorporate VR. For architects however, using VR is incredibly useful. Through virtual reality architecture firms are being able to see the interior of rooms and buildings before they’re constructed, giving them a more realistic insight as to how the finished room would look than a visualisation on a computer screen. In fact many architectural firms are already making use of this technology.
But often VR experiences aren’t solely focused on only the visual aspect. Many incorporate 3D audio to complete the immersive experience. This builds an auditory model which means users will be able to place sounds in the virtual space around them. This has led to some companies to begin experimenting with using the technology in regards to architectural acoustics by being able to experience the acoustics of a virtual room in an immersive way. It remains to be seen whether it’ll truly take off, but 3D audio may well be the next big step for mobile acoustic technology.