Why should acoustics matter to designers?


The foundations of intuitive design are built on the needs and desires of the inhabitant. How will they interact with the space? Where will they sit and stand, converse and collaborate, relax or seek solitude? How does each individual element of the space harmonize to meet the brief? These questions inform the architect or designer’s choices over the lifetime of a project. However, in order to create a balanced and productive space there is another question that must be asked: how will the space perform acoustically?

To design a space for optimum acoustic performance, there are a few things that need to be considered: primary use, room shape, reverberation time, background noise, and sound transmission.


The shape of a room determines the movement of sound waves within it. The angles, height, shape, and size of the floors, ceilings, and walls all influence the sound activity in the space. Considering each of these aspects, alongside the space’s intended purpose and building materials, should give you a good idea of how sound will behave—and inform the specification of acoustic treatment and furnishings.

Reverberation Time (RT) is the measurement of time taken for a sound to decay by 60dB after the sound has stopped. Reverberation is a muddle of sound reflections in a space that combine to create a discordant noise—exacerbated by dense, hard, reflected surfaces like concrete and glass. Some spaces, like concert halls and cathedrals, require high RT’s. However, commercial, education, and hospitality spaces should have low RT’s to support balance, productivity, and the general well-being of the occupants. The Reverberation Time of your space should be considered to ensure the best acoustic treatment is specified.

Environmental noise such as wind and rain, traffic noise, the hum of computers and air conditioning contribute to the level of sound energy in a space. This is called background noise, and is measured in decibels. For most people, a little background noise is helpful, however, as background noise increases it can cause stress, fatigue, and a lack of productivity. Designing a space with background noise in mind will ensure a peaceful, comfortable environment.


Sound transmission contributes to background noise—think traffic, rain noise, or light footfall—and is classified as sound from an external source that passes through the building partition. When unwanted noise can be heard, the amount of sound transmitted can be reduced by using building materials that are designed to attenuate sound. These materials contribute to the Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of the building, indicating how well it attenuates sound.

By considering these elements throughout the concept and design phase, every aspect of your space—from the angle and height of the ceiling, to the appliances and soft furnishings—will work cohesively to create a balanced, comfortable, and productive environment.