At Acoustics By Design we talk a lot about standards. Sometimes, the standards are hidden behind terms like design goals, baseline design, or even ordinances and specifications… But they are all standards. The reality is almost all aspects of our lives are governed by standards; regardless of how well they work or how well we adhere to them, we still use them in decision making.
If you are a regular reader of our blog, you know that LEED has been coming up a lot lately. Rightly so, it has sort of become the “Golden Boy” of standards for building design. It attempts to set design goals that encompass not only how a building functions for its intended use, but also for how that building affects the users and the environment it is built within.
We work on a lot of schools that are designed to LEED standards (with or without the actual certification process) and the acoustic standards play an important role in maximizing the environment to best promote a quiet learning environment for the students. Goals like reverberation time, STC, and background noise levels certainly are not glamorous when compared to the visual architectural elements of the building; however, they are still critical design standards that ought not be ignored. The following story illustrates the importance of acoustics in the learning environment.
My high school was an old building, built long before acoustical standards in educational building design ever existed. Like most students, I had required classes – some I liked and some I didn’t. English was one of those classes that I just didn’t like. My dislike had very little to do with my teacher, but rather the required reading that just didn’t appeal to me. For me, endless discussions of The Scarlet Letter were about as much fun as waiting in line at the DMV (sorry Hawthorne fans). Thinking back on those experiences, I now realize how many “acoustical distractions” were competing for my attention during English class. I actually have a stronger memory of the class next door and the movie they were watching that day (I can even remember the name of the movie and the scene), the laughter coming from the classroom across the hall as the funny teacher told another good joke, and even activity in the nearby bus yard as drivers started to show up and jockey for position in the anticipation of the final bell (the driver of bus #4 was always early and always had the good spot up front). As a high school student, the multiple acoustical stimuli served as mental distractions from the topic at hand. And as such, I had trouble connecting with some of the richest literature in the world.
If my school had been built to LEED for Schools standards, I’m not sure if I’d actually know that Arthur Dimmesdale was Pearl’s father, or if I’d have a better understanding of the themes of sin and guilt (thank you, Wikipedia). But I certainly would know a lot less about the activity of bus #4 and the adjoining classrooms, that’s for sure.
Fact is, the acoustical standards set forth by LEED exist not only to make the building more sustainable but also to enhance the learning environment and reduce distractions for the student. At Acoustics By Design, we see acoustical engineering as a way of investing in good, clear communication for students and teachers alike, and we design acoustical features that meet those goals every day.