Using Sound to Influence Architectural Experience

Publication date not available
Image Credit: © Ptoone | Dreamstime
Image Credit: © Ptoone | Dreamstime

Have you ever toyed with the notion of designing a space strictly based on sound quality? Perhaps acoustics have played a major role in certain projects where sound formulas served to construct space. But — what about “aural architecture”? It becomes interesting to understand what happens to architecture beyond physics. When experienced via our auditory senses, architecture gains another dimension that significantly influences occupants. In the book Spaces Speak, Are You Listening, the authors describe how aural spaces evoke feelings and emotions as occupants listen.


Interestingly, the authors describe how sound serves to connect or even isolate humans dependent upon there proximity to noise levels, a specific sound source or other people. Humans use their sense of hearing to understand space. Sound works together with the other senses to help people navigate and construct understanding of forms, objects and distances.(1) Thus, the auditory quality of an architectural space is quite important.


There is no doubt that when architecture tailors itself to the human senses its effects have great impact. The interplay between aural and visual architecture, for instance, can create powerful spatial experiences. In an interview with the authors of Spaces Speak, it was said that “extensive observations of ancient sites support the notion that wall art and acoustics were deliberately related rather than accidents.” Thus, the caves of Lascaux are prime examples of how bison images reflect the strong echoes found in the chambers. It is thought that the echoes were reminiscent of the “hoof beats” made by bison when passing.(1)


Yes, aural characteristics found within architecture often stir emotions. Accordingly, we use our sense of hearing to bond with other people as well as to enjoy space. Just imagine religious buildings, office buildings, music halls, restaurants or even residential spaces. For occupants to share a space they, frequently, must share their experiences – and sound is often a primary feature which unites them. Simply stated, if an event is out of earshot, then an occupant may not even be aware that they need to pay attention.


As architecture evolves, auditory designs will likely become more elaborate. Beyond music halls and religious institutions, sound design should do more than help occupants reconstruct space; sound design should help occupants truly interact with their surroundings. Designing with sound can bring about just as many spatial arrangements as designing with visual ques. The trick is to know how to synthesize such stimuli into a composition for multiple senses. Occupants will then have the richest of architectural experiences.



(1) Blesser, Barry & Salter, Linda-Ruth. Spaces Speak, Are you Listening? Experiencing Aural Architecture. MIT Press. 2006.

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.