This is the Most Overlooked Aspect of Building Design

This is the Most Overlooked Aspect of Building Design

It’s affecting you more than you know


Your office or workplace has one serious design flaw. And no, it’s not the outdated carpeting or questionable color scheme – although those too could definitely use a complete overhaul. This design flaw has less to do with the aesthetics and more to do with overall functionality, which we would argue is significantly more important. We’re talking about your building’s acoustics.

Shh! Everyone can hear you!

If you’re like 60% of the employees surveyed in a study conducted at the University of Sydney, you’d agree that sound privacy is the biggest frustration of your workplace. Before now, you may not have realized that the uninvited noise from the next desk over may not be merely an unavoidable inconvenience, but quite possibly a mistake made early in the planning and design process.

Achieving optimal building acoustics is more a science than it is an art. Usually conducted by acoustical consultants, finding the right balance of building materials and matching it to the building’s purpose and function can take some time. The science involved deals with the challenge of limiting/controlling the transmission of noise from one interior space to the next. The idea behind this is that the more control you have over the noise level, the more you can ensure speech privacy and effective space function. Say goodbye to eavesdropping co-workers!

Effectively implementing building acoustics

Recall from a previous blog post the importance of building envelopes. Building envelopes play a key role in the transmission of soundwaves into and out of a building by way of windows, doors, rooves, walls, and eaves. Ecohome makes sense of sound transmission in buildings by describing where typical sound paths fall. Understanding the idea of flanking sound transmission, or sound transmission via paths other than common walls and floors, reveals that sound travelling along side walls, ceilings, and floors under walls, also contributes significantly to overall noise level.

Depending on what you’re designing, whether it be a theatre, school building, office, home, or retail space, it’s important to keep the architectural functionality of that space top of mind. What is the main source of sound that will be projected? Will it be projected electronically or naturally? How far and through what must the sound travel? All these questions will guide the design process as you decide which materials are best suited for the project.


Maria Lorena Lehman provides seven design tips to secure optimal architectural acoustics in whatever space you are designing:

  1. Be aware of sound reflections – Sound clarity can become dulled if reflected off a straight surface.
  1. Make good acoustical treatment selections – Sounds are absorbed uniquely by different building materials depending on their frequencies.
  1. Reduce the effects of echoes – A ‘reverb’ is caused when sound hits parallel surfaces and bounces back and forth. Adding some kind of diffuser will reduce this effect.
  1. Keep noise control in check – Systems and utilities like HVAC and plumbing can add unwanted sounds if they are not properly insulated.
  1. Remove any obstructions – It’s not just about blocking sounds, it’s about making sure they’re properly conducted.
  1. Maintain pattern control – The ability to prevent sound distortions and feedback relies on a room with good sound coverage.
  1. Utilize a distributed sound system – speakers operating on an electronic delay known as delay-fill speakers will synch up with the main sound source.


One of the more crucial aspects of architectural design, building acoustics often go unnoticed in the grand scheme of a project. However, having an appropriate acoustic balance makes any space more functional and livable. Beyond large auditoriums, performing arts centers or churches, architectural acoustics should largely be considered for projects involving hospitals, schools, offices, and retail spaces as well. In the end, your home, office, or workplace will be a much more pleasant (and calm) place to live, work, and entertain.

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