Harmonizing Spaces: The Role of Acoustic Architects in Designing Soundscapes

Over the past handful of decades, a lot of attention has been paid to the way sound impacts our lives. Whether emphasis is placed on minimizing our exposure to loud sounds or using white noise machines to help us sleep, it’s become increasingly clear that carefully controlling the types of sounds we’re exposed to can have big benefits on both our physical and mental health. 

However, this control may be easier contemplated than implemented. There is a very real science to creating effective soundscapes, and in order to deliver the best results, we turn to acoustic architects to apply that science in meaningful ways. 

Acoustic architects understand the physics of how sound waves interact with surfaces and space and tailor building designs to produce the best sound possible. This may sound like a tall task, but once you understand the basics of how sound travels and how interactions with hard surfaces alter sound wave behavior, you’ll understand the role of acoustic architects in designing soundscapes. 

What are Acoustics?

Many of us immediately think of scenarios beyond our pay grades when the term acoustics gets thrown around. We know it has something to do with sound, but we may also assume it only has applications in music halls, recording studios, and other specialty venues. But acoustics have a direct impact on our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not.

Acoustics are a field of science that falls under the physics umbrella. It refers to how sound waves travel, as well as how they interact with their environment. These waves follow predictable patterns, and through a solid understanding of their behaviors, we can design spaces to deliver sound that adds to the enjoyment of life rather than detracting from it. The people who study the physics of sound and how to apply it in building design are known as acoustic architects.

What are Acoustic Architects?

Architects differ from designers in that they have demonstrated a technical proficiency in their field beyond simple aesthetics. A designer may know how to make things look nice, but an architect knows how each element of a design will perform in context. 

In construction, this may mean the difference between a home that lasts for centuries and one that blows over at the first stiff wind. In landscaping, a designer may be able to arrange a trio of plants to look nice, but a landscape architect will arrange them in ways that allow these plants to thrive. 

Designing with a scientific understanding of the subject matter leads to designs that perform at their best, and acoustic architects provide just that benefit in designing for acoustics. 

How are acoustic architects different from sound engineers?

Many of us are somewhat familiar with sound engineers, and wonder if they provide the same service acoustic architects do. It’s a natural jump, but there are very specific differences. While each professional provides invaluable services in creating ideal sound, sound engineers, or audio engineers, primarily works with electronics and software programs to dial in perfect sound for live performances and recording purposes. Acoustic architects, however, work with designing room layouts that are ideal for acoustics. 

For those of us who aren’t audio professionals, this may seem like overkill. Why do we need our spaces to sound so good? Plus, can we really even tell the difference? Well, the short answer is that by not noticing acoustical issues we are noticing the difference. Let’s look at some reasons why this is important.

The Impact of Soundscape Design

Acoustic architects spend a lot of time creating proper building acoustics in everything from modern offices to restaurants to the homes we live in, and for good reason. The sound in a space can affect our mental and physical wellbeing. Since soundscapes and wellbeing are intimately intertwined, it’s important to shift the balance of positive and negative sounds in our lives to one that works for us rather than against us.

Positive Sounds vs Negative Sounds

Not all sound is created equally. Some sounds relax us and impact our mental health positively, while others initiate a “fight or flight” response and have more negative impacts on our mental wellbeing. Over time, each type of sound will affect our physical wellbeing in the same way. Let’s dig a little deeper into the difference between positive sounds and negative sounds.

Positive Sounds

When we’re exposed to positive sounds, such as rushing water, rainfall, birds singing, and other pleasant, natural sounds, they positively impact our mental health. They can even help us focus, relax, and fall asleep. Exposure to positive sounds has a positive impact on our moods, which can positively impact our physical wellbeing.

Negative Sounds

When we think of noise, we are thinking of negative sounds. Noise is not pleasant. It is unwanted and distracting. Too much exposure can lead to increased stress levels and all the health problems that can be brought on or amplified by stress. If that noise is particularly loud, it can permanently damage our hearing. 

There’s even a link between soundscape and productivity. Too much exposure to noise can negatively impact our mental health by making us more anxious, frustrated, and by reducing our ability to concentrate and focus on the task at hand. This makes it harder for us to get our work done, and has negative impacts on employee morale and the bottom line.

Finding Balance

There’s little chance we’ll ever eliminate noise from our world completely, but there are things we can do to reduce the volume and impact of that noise. Designing noise pollution solutions in everyday spaces protects our emotional wellbeing, our hearing, and may even reduce the likelihood that we develop dementia in old age. Most of these solutions are based around sound architectural acoustics

Acoustic Architecture Explained

Some structures are designed with acoustics in mind and some aren’t. If acoustics haven’t been addressed in the design phase, acoustic architects must take a much more aggressive approach to treating the space and creating positive soundscapes. Let’s look at some of the most important aspects of acoustic architecture, as well as how they contribute to the overall soundscape.

Geometry of the Space

The factor that most affects acoustics may be the geometry of the space. If the room is designed with lots of right angles and hard, parallel walls, floors, and high ceilings, sound waves have a tendency to bounce back and forth endlessly. This creates acoustical issues like echo and reverb.

What are echo and reverb?

Most of us understand the concept of echo. A sound wave travels across space until striking a reflective surface, and returns to the source a short time later. As this process repeats, sound waves build up in the room, making those echoes even louder through a process known as reverberation. The net result of these acoustical issues is a whole lot of unwanted noise that drives anxiety, creates issues in communication, and can ultimately result in mental health issues.

By creating spaces that utilize staggered surfaces and softer angles, we can eliminate a lot of echo and reverb naturally. This makes the process of dialing in the soundscape with traditional acoustic materials much simpler and much more effective. The type of materials we’re talking about here primarily deal with sound absorption, sound diffusion, and sound masking.

Controlling Acoustics with Building Materials

If the geometry of the room is conducive to acoustical issues, acoustic architects must implement sound absorption and diffusion measures through building materials. Each of these control methods plays an important role in creating soundscapes that are positive.

Sound Absorption

In order to prevent the direct reflections that create unwanted noise, we use soft, absorptive materials with high density. These materials allow sound waves in and damps them, meaning they convert the vibrational energy in the sound waves to heat energy, preventing their return into the room. There are many products acoustic architects use to accomplish this damping effect, and the choice comes down to what type of sounds we’re dealing with, as well as the personal preferences of the consumer. 

Sound Diffusion

Since we don’t want to remove all reflections and create uncomfortably quiet spaces that sound dead, we use diffusers to redirect sound reflections rather than absorbing them all. Sound diffusers come in many shapes and sizes, but the purpose is always to scatter sound reflections to prevent the acoustical issues discussed earlier. With the right mix of sound absorption and diffusion, we can significantly reduce the prevalence of unwanted noise and create more serene soundscapes.

White Noise Machines

With the room acoustics addressed, many organizations utilize white noise machines to help mask sounds and bring more positive sounds into the mix. Modern sound machines can create a range of different sounds to perfectly match the mood we’re after. They can also be installed in each office and common area and be controlled from a single location. That means that no matter where we are in the office, the soundscape design remains consistent.


A proper room layout allows the space to naturally direct sound waves so we aren’t bombarded with echo and reverb. Designing structures for proper acoustics is a much more effective way of acoustically treating space than simply tacking up dozens of acoustic panels in a problematic space. 

The right design provides a base, and treatments like acoustical panels and diffusers are used to fine tune the soundscape. Each piece plays an important role in achieving the sound quality we want in indoor spaces.

​​The role of acoustic architects in creating comfortable spaces is incredibly pronounced. Without acoustic architects, many of our favorite places might be unbearably loud or so quiet that we don’t feel comfortable openly conversing. Each scenario can be equally problematic, and highlights the reasons the future of soundscape design is so bright. If you’re looking for help designing your own solution, reach out for a consultation.

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