I admit that I like working in a niche field. I especially like the reactions of people who ask me what I do for a living and have never heard of an acoustics engineer. They find it amazing that someone does this type of work, or they start asking questions or making comments about some experience they have had with (usually poor) acoustics. Recently, on my way to an acoustics conference, I crossed the border at Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge, which is the busiest US-Canadian crossing…
Upon learning that I was going to a conference, the customs agent asked me what profession I work in. “I am an acoustics engineer, sir.” Immediately, he commented that the vehicle noise at the interview kiosks is too loud, which makes it difficult to hear. And hearing what and how people answer is his job. He explained how the background noise was preventing him from hearing the nuances in peoples’ voices (which can make the difference between giving clearance and having suspicion).
The fact is, many people do not have enough knowledge about architectural acoustics to realize that a solution even exists to the reason they can’t hear well, the reason they aren’t getting any sleep at the hospital, or the reason they are distracted by their office neighbor. Even if they do realize that poor acoustics is the culprit, who should field their complaint? The nurse, who just hands them a pair of uncomfortable earplugs? Their boss, who also doesn’t know who to talk to about it or puts it low on the “to do” list? The kid ripping tickets at the cinema? It’s almost like poor acoustics are accepted as a fact of life, as if nothing can be done about it.
This is why it is our responsibility in the design and construction industry to provide good acoustics in the first place, for the comfort and productivity of the building occupants. After we’re finished with the project, what is the likelihood that something will be done to correct a poor acoustical situation? Most often, people end up just tolerating it or making an unconscious decision to not spend time in that space.
So when is special acoustical design warranted? Here are some situations where architectural acoustics play an important role.
- When people need to listen (in places such as schools, auditoria, music spaces, theaters, cinemas, courtrooms, worship spaces, assembly spaces, restaurants)
- When distractions are unwanted (hospitals, open offices)
- When speech privacy is important (healthcare, financial, judicial, government, private offices)
- When your noise could bother the neighbors (outside or vented mechanical and electrical equipment, music, gathering areas, traffic, condominiums, hotels)
Once people learn that acoustical engineering is a profession, then their feelings about noise problems gel into words and they can express themselves. It’s an empowering moment, even if it’s just to complain. They’ve learned that someone who understands is listening, and maybe even more so, that something can be done about their situation.