We are very sensitive to sound. It can be very soothing, such as sounds from nature or the calming white noise of rushing water. It can pluck the strings of our emotions: a sad movie soundtrack or the disturbing tones of a horror film. It can also be annoying and even destructive. There is no shortage of research proving how sound can negatively impact on workplaces, entertainment venues and public gathering spots. Bad sound makes for bad environments
But it is hard to get away from such noise in today’s modern world. From the heavy construction machinery, to the rumble of commuters to and the din equipment inside offices, there are plenty of acoustic distractions that also make up the cogs of our society. Yet the problem is often not the sound itself, but how we fail to do something about it.
Noisy modern buildings
It’s a topic we’ve touched on several times in our regular blogs. Modern buildings and materials are not being designed and used effectively to promote positive acoustics. And yet there are numerous things that can be done to rein sound in.
At the most fundamental level, how we place and design buildings are hugely important. For example, there is a reason why hospitals and schools don’t tend to be in close proximity to airports. These are tremendously noisy, as we all know, and may critically impact on the ability of people to learn or heal.
But there is more to this. Architects and planners can pay closer attention to noise sources in an area, then design accordingly. Even small details such as the direction doors and windows face can allow or inhibit noise coming into the building.
Some building designs fail to consider their function. When someone designs an auditorium, they naturally look for the best sound coverage for the audience. But when a restaurant is put into a location, sound is not often considered – even though bad acoustics regularly sit among the top of restaurant complaints..
Such problems can be addressed easy and early on: choosing appropriate materials such as wood, making use of sound dampeners such as curtains and acoustic panels, and using discrete movable acoustic panels to direct sound are all very effective and affordable choices.
Little touches matter
How can you tell if there is a problem with noise? Sometimes it’s just a matter of listening: once you determine the source and direction of sounds, you can start to change how they move around. There are numerous ideas that can heavily change the acoustic quality of any place.
For example, acoustic partitions are very useful to balance sound in open plan offices, Likewise, acoustic doors can help create soundproof spaces for privacy in busy spaces. Noisy equipment can be significantly muted by placing them on rubber or cork mats. Putting acoustic panels between the noise source and the area you want to quieten is also useful. Sometimes it’s a matter of maintenance: a bit of lubricating oil or replacing rubber insulators can help reduce the noise generated by equipment.
Remedies vary depending on the space. Conference halls could be subdivided effectively with movable acoustic partitions. Absorption panels can make a big difference in restaurants or creating special spaces in homes such as a movie room. Even general commercial spaces, classrooms and hospitals can be easily reconfigured with demountable glass partitions or reduce outside noise through double-glazed windows.
Sound behaves like water – its momentum and character changes as it interacts with the world around it. This can make acoustic treatment tricky and is perhaps why many choose to ignore it. Managing sound seems too complicated, but it doesn’t have to be, not if you are smart and patient, picking your battles and planning ahead to tackle larger disturbances.
But it’s a fact that, bad sound leads to bad experiences and these experiences translate into a loss of productivity, devaluing of property and a general disharmony in our world. Yet good sound does exactly the opposite. Isn’t it time we start designing for our noisy world?