Architectural Acoustics: A Bridge Between Science and Art

There is always a struggle between a career in art or science.

The two can be as different as night and day but there are a few fields where both of them can be satisfied. Architectural acoustics is a field of science that deals with applying the physical properties of sound waves to many structures such as concert halls. Important to many structures, this field is constantly being changed due to advancing technology which allows more quantifiable data when evaluating a concert hall. Modern materials and methods of creating concert halls should, in theory, allow for more acoustically accurate concert halls while remaining aesthetically pleasing, opposed to older methods. This problem was addressed by field work where the acoustic quality of different modern environments was judged and recorded in order to determine the qualities that could be applicable to a good design.

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I’ve completed a feasible sketch of a design for an operational concert hall. Fortunately, the plasticity of modern designs and convex shapes used can greatly optimize sound. Additionally, architects have more flexibility on their designs and acousticians receive more options to optimize the sound quality of a concert hall so the design can be more elastic (“How to Tune a Building” Bing Concert Hall Documentary). The project is directed at students choosing between science and art. This project gives a compromise between the left and right brain.

Overall, modern work environments and resources allow concert halls to be built with superior acoustic qualities opposed to those built longer ago. The modern process allows architects to express more creative freedom without diminishing sound quality. The information I had collected from numerous sources is below. Years of scientific breakthroughs with synthetic and composite materials opened doorways to architects as recent discoveries make certain structures possible. Modern materials can enhance acoustics; steel and fiberglass can be used to make shells to deflect sound anywhere in the hall optimizing the distribution (Wood 2).

Shells and sails are large pieces of composite materials that are often curved to direct sounds to different places. As well as having a function, shells are attractive and add to the aesthetic value of the environment. . These can be hung up using steel wires or placed directly onto the wall. They are solid enough to deflect sound but light enough to be suspended. They’re often used in modern concert halls due to their form and function (Wood 1).

The convex shapes are often textured such as that of Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall and add detail to an empty wall In addition to composites and steel, concrete and titanium platings are also relatively new developments in architecture. Though the materials existed for a long time, people have tapped the potential for building and have found that they are quite reliable. As seen in the Disney Concert Hall, the structure is encased in titanium platings and gives the building unique, qualities. Titanium is rare, but this design was possible due to the scrap metal that had been cast aside recently that wasn’t available to people before. Once the space programs of various countries cut development, the need for the titanium also went down.

The platings can be used for walls and are also effective at distributing sound without absorbing too much of it (Tiwari 2). The concrete has low attenuation, meaning it isn’t easily penetrated by sound so the sound simply bounces back outwards. in addition to acoustic possibilities, concrete can be poured into interesting shapes that could improve the deflection of sound. With today’s building materials, new shapes and structures can be built. The plasticity of designs and convex shapes used can greatly optimize sound and as architects have more flexibility on their designs, acousticians receive more options to optimize the sound quality of a concert hall (How to Tune a Building” Bing Concert Hall Documentary). The building limits like the ceiling height can easily be modified and plans can be changed easily thanks to lighter materials allowing architects to build up without cumbersome, protrusive supports often seen in famous gothic cathedrals that are known for their cavernous acoustics.

In the video, the main acoustical consultant, Yasuhisa Toyota, made observations of the design and stated that the ceiling should be 45 feet. This big change was completed within a few moments on a computer and micro adjustments such as Toyota’s are examples of how quickly and easily big changes can be applied to the main design (How to Tune a Building” Bing Concert Hall Documentary). Besides the actual structure, details such as carpeting and other sound absorbing materials like foam padding can cut down on how much noise leaves the concert hall. The concert hall often projects loud music but also needs to be able to contain the sound to prevent it from disturbing people outside the hall and to keep the music with the audience for a surround sound experience (Bruel & Kj?r 1).

In urban areas specifically, the containment of sound is important as the building is in close proximity of others. In a specific case, a designer created a hall but the bass frequencies bothered the neighbors so adjustments were made to add more insulation and move the subwoofers to prevent the unwanted leakage (Rohrer). Despite the 100 yd space between the building and house, the louder bass frequencies still reached the residents but was fixed with modern materials and relocation of speakers. Older designs relied on stone and untreated wood which were adequate at the time but modern materials can be used in more ways which makes modern materials superior for making concert halls. The reason materials are so meticulously tested and chosen is for the optimal sound quality.

Some may ask, what is a good sound? According to the article “Europe Chasing the Perfect Sound”, it’s a “warm, immediate sound that makes us feel as if we are sitting in the middle of the orchestra” (Adair 1). The aforementioned description applies to acoustic performances such as those of classical pieces. This greatly differs from what people expect of popular music like rap or dubstep which rely on technology, synths, and microphones to amplify instead of a structure. Despite the idiosyncrasies found in Concert Halls, they are still superb for all styles of music. To achieve the warm sound, acousticians have developed many ways of defining and measuring sound. Based off of material qualities, attenuation is a factor often taken into consideration when choosing materials.

Attenuation is the property of a material to absorb sound waves; those with low attenuation deflect sound while those high attenuation absorb the waves (Hilge 3). Attenuation applies to many materials in the walls and generally any surface hit by sound so those that absorb can be used in the areas that need to prevent sound leakage. It’s also used to judge which materials are fit for the walls, ceilings, and other surfaces that directly influence sound quality (Hilge 5). It would be better to have a material with low attenuation like concrete near the orchestra to deflect the sound towards the audience and materials with high attenuation like foam as insulation. Reverberation time, going hand in hand with attenuation, is carefully measured and controlled to create the right length.

(Hilge 11). Reverberation time is the time until sound completely dissipates in an environment. The favorable reverberation time is not too long that is muddles up other sounds but not too short that it manages to die out immediately. This can be achieved through design, or through the usage of carefully placed microphones to emulate different concert halls. Humidity is the concentration of water vapor in the air. This is controlled in buildings by air conditioning systems and has a little effect on the sound quality (Blevin 1).

The instruments most affected are the ones that produce higher frequencies like a piccolo or a tin whistle (Nave 1).Controlling the humidity is mainly for the comfort of the audience. All of these factors are now a science and can be measured and altered in an environment opposed to the times before such advances were made and all tuning was based off ear only. This is more accurate and makes modern methods superior when compared to that of the 1900s or earlier. Concerning the aesthetic qualities, there’s a new style of architecture that is commonly implemented. Microphones are used to play sound to enhance the performance or measure sound to provide quantifiable data.

These are used to measure the pressure of sound and volume and are a fairly recent tool used in the field (O’Donovan 3). The information collected by microphones is used to regularly modify and make changes to the hall according to the measurements of the sound. (see earlier sections for measured information collected)(How Meyer Sound Constellation Optimizes Acoustics in Shape-Shifting Logomo Hall). In O’Donovan’s studies, he used, “VisiSonics AudioVisual Panoramic Camera. This device provides several microphones (64 or 128), and several high definition cameras (5 or 15), which provide an ability to record sound, and to co-register the sound.

” This device allowed him to visually track the movement of sound waves using a program that modeled the deflection of sound in an environment using a combination of cameras and microphones. Modern technology makes the process behind the creation of a modern concert hall much more efficient than older methods with pencil and paper and even snail mail. Architectural acoustics is a very old field that has recently been given a name and identity but the evolution has led to many breakthroughs in the field and history has shown that the structures and design process improve over time. Modern technology and software speed up the designing and drawing process and allow instant communication. The architecture and materials allow for high sound quality as well as beautiful buildings. Together, the builder, the performer, and the audience can all enjoy the efficiency and beauty of the modern design methods and concert halls.

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