Critical Thinking

Introduction in your ears and leaving you in

Introduction

 

We hear numerous types of sounds, from the sound of our
alarm in the morning to the voices of the people we encounter, everyday of our
lives. Sometimes we have a choice on whether or not we want to choose to hear
sounds such as when we’re sitting down in a crowded room it tends to get
noisier therefore we’d put on our headphones and listen to some music to block
out the outside noise. However, in most situations we don’t always have the
luxury to control the sounds we hear. For example, if you’re in your workplace
sitting in your desk, concentrating to finish your deadline and unfortunately
the room behind you happens to be the lounge area and the wall separating you
and that room was poorly designed and ‘paper thin’ you would be able to hear
every loud conversation. As Janning stated “In today’s architectural
environment, good acoustical design isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity.
Acoustics impacts everything from employee productivity in office settings to
performance quality in auditoriums to the market value of apartments,
condominiums and single-family homes” 1

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But not all sounds are annoying unwanted noises that we wish
to block out, sometimes the sounds we hear, we want to amplify as if we want to
whole world to listen to it as well. For instance, as a music enthusiast I
personally love to listen to music in full volume through my headphones but what’s
even better than that is going to a live concert in a stadium where the sound
is amplified as this evokes a different feeling and experience as it would in
comparison if I were to listen to it in my room, with headphones, alone. Its
fascinating how a stadium is designed so intricately to bounce the sound back
to the audience where you would feel the bass of the music pounding in your
chest, hear the cheers of the crowd ringing in your ears and leaving you in a
euphoric state whereas if you would be hearing this same noises in a place or
situation that’s not a live concert the loud voices of a crowd would be leaving
you in an irritated state rather than euphoric.

 

With that in mind, controlling the sound can affect the
environment and atmosphere of a space whether it be outdoor or indoor. The
design of controlling the sound in a space should cater to the needs of the
users, for example designing a recording studio would be much more different
than if you would be designing an auditorium, as a studio would require a very
low ambient sound level inside a recording booth to successfully record a sound
without external noises. Designing for sound control in a studio doesn’t stop
within the confines of the recording booths but also the actual building itself
as external noise climates like traffic, road works, etc. should also be taken
into consideration. “The acoustical design of studios requires careful attention
to detail” 2

 

That being said, in this dissertation, I would be touching
on the topics of ways to control sound in architecture and why it is important
while also showing different situations on how it helps. I have chosen three
case studies to back up and help paint a clearer picture about these topics.
First one being St. Paul’s Cathedral’s Whispering Gallery, though this case
study is not musically influenced it’s intriguing concept of echoing a whisper from
one wall to another is certainly compelling on how well the designer thought
out how to control the sound of the whisper would travel in such way. Second
case study is the Danish Music Museum or better knows as the Sonorous Museum in
Denmark from the architects of Creo Arkitekter A/S and Adept. Where the “Building
materials and textures can accentuate very specific sounds… has shaped,
perforated and padded each room’s timber-lined walls to enhance the sounds of
strings, brass, percussion or a full orchestra in the space.” 3 And
the last case study is the Elbphilharmonie by the architect Herzog and De
Meuron where the concert hall is described as “supreme mastery of acoustics” 4 by Charles
Jenks on an architectural review.

 

 

Architectural Acoustics

 

“I am convinced that it is
the responsibility of the architect, to design acoustics that fit the function
and match the architectural concept for a design question, and that although it
can be a real challenge, it can be a powerful tool to create the atmosphere an
architect has in mind.” 5

 

Architectural
Acoustics is the science of controlling sound in buildings.

 

The
Three Acoustical “tools”

 

These
tools are not necessarily physical tools but rather a representation of the
acoustical properties and interactive behaviour of various surface materials.
These three acoustical tools translate into materials and application
techniques that can be used to manage how sound behaves and travels in an enclosed
space.

 

 

 

Diffusion

 

Diffusion
is when sound is projected onto a surfaces it is then reflected back into
thousands of tiny reflections of the sound, effectively scattering it in all
directions.

 

“Sound
diffusion in a room is the condition of having a uniform sound level distribution
throughout the room. This is desirable in all rooms used for speech or music…If
a space lacks diffusion, the sound will have an uneven quality making it
difficult for musicians to hear one another.” 6

 

Absorptions

 

Absorption
is when the sound that hits a surface is not reflected back. This can be
achieved with materials for instance, porous absorbers like acoustical tiles,
carpets etc. or panel absorbers such as wood panels, perforated panels etc.

 

But
Absorption is not always necessarily achieved with only using materials with
absorption properties. In fact, there are natural ways in which sound is proven
to be absorbed as recognised by Vern Oliver Knudsen. Knudsen discovered that
“humidity of the air in the chambers had a marked effect on their reverberation
time” 7 Knudsen further explains that “the dependence of air
absorption on the proportion of water vapour present could be interpreted in
terms of the rate of adjustments of the internal equilibrium between vibrating
and non-vibrating oxygen molecules…the presence of small concentrations of
water molecules shifts the absorption band to higher frequencies. In practice,
at normal room temperatures and humidities, this absorption of sound due to
relaxation of oxygen molecules.” 7.5

 

Reflection

 

Reflection
is when a sound hits a surfaces such as a wall or a floor and it is then
reflected back into the space. However, it is different if a sound is reflected
on a flat smooth surface in comparison to a surface that is convex. If the
sound is reflected onto a convex shaped space the sound would be dispersed more
rapidly in comparison to if sound was to reflect from a flat surface. Examples
of reflective materials are concrete, tiles, glass, woods and metals.

 

“If
the early reflections reach the ears of the listeners from the sides, this
enhances the three-dimensional acoustic impressions.” 8

 

 

 

 

 

Case Study One: Whispering Gallery

 

.

St Paul’s Cathedral designed by Sir Christopher Wren was an
iconic cathedral as it was the tallest building in London at the time of its
construction in 1675. It took almost 35 years to complete the construction. The
dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the Whispering Gallery is located, is also
one of the largest domes in the world. Its architectural design was inspired
from ancient basilica architectures; it is a type of building that was used by
the Romans for jurisdictional purposes but then later on adopted by Christians
and used them as a place of religious worshiping.

 

There are multiple Whispering Galleries across the globe but
one of the most famous and known one especially for us Londoners is the
Whispering Gallery in the mezzanine level that runs around the interior of the
dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. From the ground it is approximately 30 m high and
34 m wide and it is reached by walking up roughly 300 steps from the ground.
Therefore, to experience this you must be willing to climb all of those steps
and apparently a great deal of people prepared to do so as the Whispering
Gallery attracts visitors not only those who are local and live here in the UK
much less in London, but also people all over the world travel and come and
swing by as they too are impressed with the idea of being able to whisper to a
wall and have it be heard by someone else on the other side of the wall. Though
it seems like its a ludicrous idea to whisper to an inanimate object its not
such a bizarre thing if its explained to people the acoustical properties of
the materials used in the interior walls of the gallery that help the sounds
travel in such a controlled way, in terms of instead of the sound being absorbed
the sound is carried by waves and travels along the circumference of the
interior walls.    

 

Amongst the many Whispering Galleries across the world there
is a known ‘natural’ Whispering Gallery in South Australia, the Barossa
Reservoir. It is 118 feet tall and holds almost 4, 500 litres of water. It was
originally built to supply water and what the designers didn’t know was the
hidden acoustic properties of the dam. The hard and curved surface allows sound
to travel from one end to another much like the Whispering Gallery in St Paul’s
Cathedral but in a much more larger scale. “The voices can be heard quite
clearly due to a phenomenon known as the parabola effect. The wall is so
perfectly curved that it forms one sector of a circle. And the sound waves just
bounce in a series of straight jumps all the way to the other end.” 9

 

Although Whispering Galleries are up for debate whether the
designers intended for people to whisper onto a wall and have it travel to the
opposite side or not it is still an impressive way to show how sound can be
controlled with the use of specific materiality and design regardless if it was
intentional or not

 

 

 

Case Study Two: Sonorous Museum

 

 

“A
museum that revisits the relationship between architecture and acoustic” 10

 

 

The Danish Music Museum or also known as the ‘Sonorous
Museum’ was opened to the public in 2014 with its new refurbished exhibition
spaces, done by Adept, with its design and aesthetic is inspired by architect
Vilhelm Lauritzen as Lauritzen was the original architect of the building. Adept
wanted to preserve and respect the original buildings scheme all the while
adding a contemporary twist to it. Apart from the new exhibition spaces, which
comprises glass boxes and open tableaus that showcases a collection of
historical instruments that dates back to the bronze ages which was around 2000
BC to instruments that we have now, the most remarkable part of the museum is
the four very thought out and detailed sound spaces that is part of the museums
educational program. These four spaces are different from each other in terms
of its purpose acoustically while visually it all ties in together as they’re
all clad in wood veneer which was designed “to create the optimal acoustic
setting for each instrumental configuration” 10.5

 

With the whole concept of the museum being to highlight the
‘complex’ relationship of architecture and acoustics, it has done just that
with the four studio spaces by installing perforated and panelled woodwork line
in all four acoustic studio rooms. These perforated acoustic wood panels help
reduce noise levels projected and also help decrease sound reverberation within
the whole building therefore if in one of the rooms is a string player and in
the other room is a percussion player both sides of the party wouldn’t be
disturbed as the sounds are absorbed by the perforated panels thus centralising
the sound waves. Though it’s typically thought out that perforated acoustic
panels are only used in relation to recording studios where it helps get a
clean and crisp recording of a sound and also because it’s a must but that is
not always the case. In the Sonorous Museum its used partly for its
aesthetically pleasing appearance but more of its purpose of letting the players
connect, concentrate and hear the sounds that they play better without the
disturbance of the visitors of the museum viewing the collection of instruments
in display. The wood panels would also add privacy and a sense of intimacy in
the space.

 

“The exhibition
design is build up around the guest’s physical movement through musical history
– a movement communicated in a delicate balance between exhibited objects and
instruments, graphic illustrations and listening stations interacting with the
museum guest.” 11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Case Study Three: Elbphilharmonie

 

“Music in a concert hall sounds better than at an
outdoor festival…and it’s one of hundreds of laws of acoustics – a complex mix
of geometry, architecture, physics and neuro science – that must be mastered to
make a hall sound beautiful.” 12

 

The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany is designed by architects Herzog & De
Meuron. It is critically acclaimed by Mark Swed from the La Times as the worlds
“most imposing concert hall” 13 and title it as the “sound of the
future”. 13.5 The main focus of this building is the Grand Concert
Hall as it has the main star which is the ‘Coral Cave’, the coral cave is the
giant reflector in the center of the main hall it has a surface of 250 m2
guarantees a flawless and perfect sound distribution throughout the concert
hall and the ceiling, walls and balustrades itself compromises of 10,000
off-white ivory coloured acoustic panels. With that combined, this gives the
ultimate perfect musical listening experience.

 

Even
distribution of sound in a concert hall is a key element when you’re going to
see a concert or what ever type of performance it may be. Bear in mind that
people spend a lot of money to go and watch musical performances and it would
be a shame if you ended up sitting at the back row and not be able to hear the
music when you’ve paid a lot for it, right? Not only that but it is also
imperative for performers especially orchestra players to have good reflectors
in the space as this ensures early sound reflection helping them hear each
other properly and effectively, they wouldn’t want to be in the position where
the woodwind players are playing at a different pace than the string players
when they’re meant to be synchronised because again that would be a
disappointment to the people who paid a great deal of money to see the show as
they would be expecting a perfect harmonious performance and instead they get a
disoriented mess. 

 

All in all, the whole building itself is
impressive as Herzog & De Meuron intricately designed everything inside and
out. From the exterior design of the building, the glass façade panels
modernising and keeping up with the architectures in these eras. To the curving
glass walls that separates the outdoors to the main reception area, to even the
other halls, apart from the main concert hall of course, such as the recital
hall with its shoebox shape that was covered with wooden contoured walls. It
truly is a building that embodies a perfect and ideal concert hall.

 

 

“The key to improving the acoustics of a concert
hall lies in getting a better mix of ‘direct sound’ – which comes to your ear
straight from the stage, and ‘reflected sound’ which travels to listeners via
walls, the ceiling and other surfaces. Because reflected sound travels further,
it reaches your ear a fraction of a second later. The reflections depend on the
shape of the room and where you and the performers are sitting.” 12.5

                                                                                                    

In Conclusion, controlling sound in architecture is more
than just adding a few panels in a room and calling it a day. It is more
thought out and carefully planned as it involves science and maths all in one. Sound
control in architecture is essential especially if the function of the space
has a lot of sound production whether it be intentional or inevitable i.e. if
its intentional, a space like a recording studio would be a good example of
when sound control would be necessary as its needed to create a good quality of
sound recording while an example of inevitable sound production would be a
place much more public much like a school as there would only be so much done
to minimise and control the sound emitted such as the noise of the students in
the hallways but also other noise factors that would have to be considered like
external disturbances much like traffic.

 

Regardless of its complexity, control over sound can have an
affect on the environment and atmosphere of a space. Multiple projections of
diverse sounds can rearrange an overall feel or emotion to the space without
inhibiting it. This constant rearrangement of sound is always changing how we
feel and perceive a space unless acoustic practices are specifically engineered
and catered to the idiosyncratic specifications of the building. Thus
reiterating the matter of sound control in architecture can not only enhance
sound, amplify sound but also have an effect on the mentality of humans like
you and me.

 

 

“According to the architect Peter Zumthor, architectural
quality is, at least for him, when a building moves him, which he describes as
atmosphere.1 This is experienced with all the senses together. Most of the time
it seems that the architecture is designed regarding the eyes only. But
according to some architects, one of our most important senses for the perceiving
of space, dimensions and material, besides the eyes, are the ears.” 14

 

 

 

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