7 Design Tips for Best Architectural Acoustics

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Image Credit: © Ale_lobo | Dreamstime
Image Credit: © Ale_lobo | Dreamstime

Architectural design requires that acoustics be well thought out and coordinated. The sound spectrum must remain clear without portions distorted or missing. The paper, Acoustics and Sound Systems in Architectural Design, emphasizes how acousticians should be part of the design team early on. The author describes how it is important to avoid overlapping sound waves that project into a common space – this interference is what can distort the sound spectrum.(1)


The following are 7 additional design tips to achieve the best architectural acoustics within a space. These principles highlight some of the most informative ideas found within Acoustics and Sound Systems in Architectural Design for best aural experience.


1) Watch out for SOUND REFLECTIONS. Straight surfaces reflect sounds back into the central space making sound clarity muddy.


2) Select ACOUSTICAL TREATMENT carefully. Different materials absorb sound frequencies differently. Make sure your acoustical treatments are absorbing the right sound frequencies.


3) Diminish ECHOES when necessary. Be aware that sounds traveling within 30 milliseconds of each other are perceived without echo. Sounds traveling after the 30 millisecond threshold become echoes of the original sound.


4) Don’t let other building systems get in the way. NOISE CONTROL is important to keep in check as other building systems (like HVAC systems) operate. Keep such clashing noises to a minimum.


5) Keep objects or other OBSTRUCTIONS out of the way. Objects that obstruct a sound path can block high frequency sounds. (Low frequency sounds can bend around objects.)


6) Get good PATTERN CONTROL. Make sure sound systems for a room get good sound coverage. This will prevent feed-back and other sound distortions.


7) For out-of-the-way listening areas get DISTRIBUTED SOUND SYSTEMS. Such “delay-fill” speakers operate with an electronic delay so the sound matches and is synchronized.


In the end, it is important to make sure that the architectural acoustics match the architectural function and aesthetic value of a particular project. I remember visiting a hospital where the TV sound was obstructed by an HVAC vent. That simple sound collision can make for quite an uncomfortable hospital stay. Similarly, you should make certain that sound travels only when you want it to. Office conversations that needlessly travel to employee office spaces can be quite a distraction.


Involve your acoustician early and coordinate design efforts to avoid uncomfortable and sometimes painful aural sensations. Architectural acoustics are important beyond auditoriums, theaters and religious spaces.



(1) Kamlet, Rick. Acoustics and Sound Systems in Architectural Design. Archi-Tech. April 2005.

About the author

Maria Lorena Lehman

Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary artist, designer, and author focusing on links between environmental design, science, emerging technologies, and human potential. Lehman is founder of MLL Atelier, an art-based architectural design research practice. Maria Lorena Lehman is author of the award-winning book entitled, Adaptive Sensory Environments. She is recipient of the Harvard University Digital Design Prize for the "most creative use of digital media in relation to the design professions". Lehman also creates sculptures and paintings described as "visual poetry of motion that is a new inspiration" by Daniel Smith, the company that creates watercolors for artists worldwide. Maria Lorena Lehman holds the degrees of Master in Design with Distinction from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and a Bachelor of Architecture, Cum Laude, from Virginia Tech. She is internationally published and in numerous periodicals, including The Architect's Journal, Esquisses Magazine, Architect Magazine and Forbes.