Architects tend to focus on the aesthetics and functional aspects of buildings long before their acoustics are considered at all. But the materials and geometries of built spaces affect how sound behaves inside their walls, and that has a big influence how people experience a building.
Brady Peters, assistant professor of architecture at the University of Toronto, aims to make the interior soundscapes of our everyday buildings into more exciting experiences.
“As architects we’re very familiar with visualizing space, to create visualizations, but we can also create auralizations,” says Peters.
“Sound has actually been really carefully designed for things like concert halls and opera houses, and so forth. I’m actually interested more in more common spaces, shall we say. Things like meeting rooms and classrooms, hallways, and how do we design for sound in these types of spaces? Can we use that same kind of thought process that we have learned through our work in concert halls and opera houses to actually design better classrooms?”
Designing architecture for sound starts with the three basic mechanisms by which sound can interact with a surface, says Peters. Of these mechanisms, there are two that are very well understood: sound absorption, which represents a surface’s ability to absorb sound energy, and sound reflection, which represents how sounds can bounce off of walls and ceilings.
“The third mechanism is sound diffusion, which is the scattering of sound, not only into many different directions, but over time as well,” explains Peters. “And this is the third important criterion for sound. It’s the mixture of these three mechanisms in which we can actually tune the materials of the space around us.”
Together, these three mechanisms can be exploited to achieve areas where sound is dampened, and areas where sound is amplified. It’s a complex problem with many potential sources for sounds to originate, and many places where people may have an expectation of being able to hear, versus other working spaces designed to be quiet.
Peters uses computer-aided design and simulations to create ways to analyze and tune the acoustics of different spaces.
“This can actually become a fundamental driving factor in architecture and in architectural design,” says Peters. “This can impact forms of the surfaces that surround us, and the methods of manufacturing as well.”