Day 1: Acoustic Planning for Architects, Designers & Builders

The soundscape around us has a profound impact on everything we do. The music we listen to, the programs we watch, and the work conferences or school classes we attend can be either positively or negatively impacted by sound quality and room acoustics. Unfortunately, not all places we occupy or visit are designed with our experience—or our ears—in mind.

Because sound is generated everywhere, unwanted noise easily follows suit. Unwanted airborne noise can have real, lasting consequences on the overall quality of work and life. From a child’s ability to process and understand language to anxiety management techniques, room acoustics impact nearly every aspect of our day-to-day, for better or for worse.

That’s why acoustic planning for architects, designers, and builders is critical to implement before working on a space.

The Importance of Acoustics In Architectural Design

In the 1970s, researchers studying noise levels in New York City found that in some buildings, the noise from traffic was equivalent to a constantly running vacuum cleaner.1 This noise reached rooms as high as the eighth floor and reportedly inhibited the learning ability of children on lower levels. This threw the ties between noise pollution and quality of life into the national spotlight, sparking discussion on how sound affects comfortable home environments.

Consider the impact of sound on physical health, too, using hospitals as a primary example. Hospitals should be optimized for rest and recovery, but research shows that noise levels within them are steadily increasing. This could be affecting patients’ ability to recover. Nighttime noises that are above 55 decibels can affect patients’ ability to sleep and even increase their risk of heart disease.2 In some facilities, nighttime noises can reach over 100 decibels.

Over time, there’s been an evolving emphasis on reducing sound and improving audio quality at the construction level. Products and surfaces that dampen sound level can be greatly beneficial in all types of architecture, but acoustics go much further than controlling the sound level. Think about the last time you were at a concert hall, auditorium, or other space dedicated to sound.

  • Were the speakers clear?
  • Was the music diluted or unpleasant?
  • Did the sound reverberate too much, or was it too muted?

The places we love to spend time in tend to have one thing in common: an attractive ambiance. Great acoustics create this ambiance.

In a TED Talk titled Why architects need to use their ears, Julian Treasure shared the importance of using our ears when building.3 The problem is that it’s human nature to start with the eyes. This is understandable because aesthetics are core to good design. But the things we can’t see contribute just as much to our experience.

Contact us to find your perfect acoustical fit today!

How Overlooking Acoustics Can Cost You

When you’re building from the ground up, it’s easier to implement the changes that can alter a soundscape for the better. This includes:

  • The size and shape of walls
  • The height of the ceiling
  • What materials to use for the floor, walls, and ceiling
  • Placements of furniture, windows, and doors

But if you don’t start with your ears, you risk creating a design that’s visually phenomenal but acoustically troubling. It’s possible to combat a poor audio space with acoustic panels for sound dampening, soundproofing, or sound diffusion after a construction project is mostly completed. But that’s going to serve as an extra—and avoidable—expense added to your bill.

Understanding the Basics of Acoustics

To understand architectural acoustics, we need to understand how sound works and travels. First, there are the two major types of sounds which reach our ears, both of which are useful and necessary in daily life.

Direct vs Reflected Sounds

These sound types work and travel differently. Direct sound reaches the ear first, coming from the source of the noise straight to the eardrum. Reflected sound reaches the ear after bouncing off of surrounding surfaces.

When balanced properly, direct and reflected sounds together create audio ambience, allowing an environment to sound natural. When the balance is off, it creates audio distortion or unnatural muting. A room that isn’t designed to manage these sound waves will produce destructive interference and excessive noise, resulting in a discordant soundscape.

Common Acoustic Challenges In Buildings

Of course, architects, designers, and builders have to juggle dozens of different aspects when creating a building. Limitations on materials, placement of structures, and more can easily lead to issues with acoustics.

Some of the most common acoustic issues faced in construction include:

  • Hard surfaces – These are a popular option due to how sturdy and low-maintenance hard surfaces tend to be. This umbrella term can include uncovered windows, wooden furniture, large counters, bare floors, and anything made of metal.
  • High ceilings – When people think of their concert hall or business layout, they’re usually aiming for visual opulence, and high ceilings are a great way to capture that. However, it’s also a surefire way to increase the echo in a room. The higher the ceiling, the louder the echo, especially if the rooms are empty or have minimal sound barriers.
  • Not taking noise sources into consideration – When working on any construction project, you should always consider external and internal sources of environmental noise. This can include machinery and traffic, air conditioning or heating, and the number of people expected to be in a location at any given time.
  • Not having enough sound absorption or diffusion – You need a balance of both for the best soundscape. Absorption without diffusion muffles a room unnaturally, while diffusion without absorption can make sound can bounce around recklessly, creating a hectic and chaotic feel that puts people on edge.

Fortunately, some of these problems have solutions that are relatively easy to implement.

Tools For Sound Management

The second step to acoustic design is understanding the principles on which acoustic treatment tools operate. For example, two ways you can improve the sound in a building is through the use of diffusers and absorbers. How do these operate?

  • Diffusers – A diffuser helps scatter sound. Instead of getting hit with reverberation within microseconds of itself, you’ll hear sound at more natural intervals. This reduces echo and distortion.
  • Absorbers – An absorber, as the name implies, absorbs part of the sound and reduces the amount of distortion from sound deflection. They’re often made from porous or spongey materials.

Both diffusing and absorbing tools can help improve the sound quality of your building, but using both concurrently will give you the best, most natural sounds.

Building Your Soundscape

As a builder, it may be tempting to ignore acoustics in an attempt to save money. But planning for acoustics early in the building process is actually more cost-effective than you might imagine.

Consider The Building’s Purpose

Starting with the purpose of the building will help you prioritize the essential building elements, which includes acoustics. For example, in a classroom, you want to limit sound distortion and background noise to ensure all kids hear the same information. In a concert hall, however, you may want to enhance sound quality and dispersion to cover a wider area.

Search For Noise Sources

Many different building elements could impact sound quality depending on the source of the noise, including the building itself. Counter flat, hard surfaces of equal dimension with soft and porous absorption material.

If it’s a mechanical noise issue, sound isolation is ideal. Machinery with moving parts will often introduce vibration into the structure at points of contact. Rubber or spring isolators between the machine and the floor can yield significant reductions in noise.

Acoustic Treatment vs Soundproofing

It’s best to list down products and other materials you will need for your acoustic design. Remember that soundproofing is the action of blocking sounds from leaving or entering a room. Once the wall is closed and drywalled over, it can be significantly harder—and significantly more expensive—to soundproof a space.

The purpose of acoustic treatment, on the other hand, is to improve the quality of sound within a given space. You can use materials to treat the room by reducing reverberation, echo, standing waves, and so on. While acoustic treatment can control how much sound you hear, its main goal is to improve overall sound quality.

The Role of Acoustic Checks

Ready to test the acoustic measures you’ve outlined? Implement acoustic assessments and audits where needed.4 Typically, an acoustic assessment is predictive and happens before construction. The goal is to determine sound emission estimates and make sure they stick within legal guidelines. Acoustic audits check after the facility is built to ensure that it sticks to those estimates.

Putting Sound First

The best way to solve acoustic challenges is to start with architectural design. Focus on:

  • The layout of the room
  • Incorporating sound-friendly materials
  • Treating walls, floors and ceilings with tools for diffusion or absorption

When done right, acoustic elements even add to the visual aesthetics of your space.

Create Your Dream Soundscape with Acoustical Surfaces

Do you prefer pre-planning versus post planning? Are you looking for support through your entire construction project, and not just at the start? At Acoustical Surfaces, we have all the tools and acoustic treatment solutions you need to create the soundscape you’ve always wanted, and we’ll help you every step of the way.
The spaces we work in are no longer a utility but an experience. Incorporating architectural acoustic treatment into the design makes it accessible to more people and improves everything about your space.

If you’re ready to embark on a journey to a space with next-level acoustic quality, look no further than Acoustical Surfaces. With us, your next construction project will sing.



  1. National Library of Medicine. Noise Levels Associated With New York City’s Mass Transit Systems.
  2. Healthline. What is Hyperacusis?
  3. TED. Why architects need to use their ears.
  4. Law Insider. Acoustic Audit definition.


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