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A Woman’s Touch: The Impact of Women Architects on Acoustic Design

Some of the most recognized and celebrated names in architecture have belonged to men, but the contributions of women to the field of architecture have also been incalculable. Across the decades, women have shaped our built environment in ways large and small. In so doing, they have also changed the soundscape of our lives, transforming the science and the practice of acoustic design. In this article, we examine some of architecture’s greatest female figures and the iconic achievements that have changed the look and sound of our modern world.

Julia Morgan–Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California

One of the United States’ grandest homes, Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, California, is one of the earliest and most iconic structures to be designed by an American woman, the illustrious architect, Julia Morgan. Designed to serve as the primary residence of America’s first true media mogul, William Randolph Hearst, the construction reflects Hearst’s eclectic sensibilities and Morgan’s classical training at Paris’ Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Beginning construction in 1919, Morgan and her team would continue to craft their monumental masterpiece over the proceeding three decades, finally concluding, though not completing, the project in the mid-1940s.

Hearst Castle not only speaks to the eccentric and grandiose aesthetic of its proprietor but also to the uncompromising vision of its designer. Featuring a dazzling amalgam of stone, tile, glass, wood, and reinforced concrete, construction materials are painstakingly chosen not only for visual appeal but for sound optimization. Morgan’s adept combining of materials that absorb sound waves and those that disperse them ensures that each space is acoustically suited to the function it’s intended to serve.  

In addition to the choice of materials, Morgan’s use of garden terraces, wooded walkways, and high, vaulted ceilings was ideal for the creation of discrete zones of sound in both the interior and exterior spaces of the home. The coffered ceilings, exposed beams, and inset and recessed walls break up and redistribute sound waves to prevent echoes, reverberations, and sound distortions in high-use areas, such as the Grand Dining Room.

Beverly Lorraine Greene–UNESCO Headquarters

UNESCO headquarters building (or Maison de l'Unesco) in Paris, France
UNESCO headquarters building (or Maison de l'Unesco) in Paris, France

Born in Chicago in 1915, Beverly Lorraine Greene was more than a master architect. She was also a master at breaking barriers. The first African American female to be licensed as an architect in the US, Greene played an instrumental role in the design of the famed UNESCO Headquarters in Paris

A division of the United Nations, UNESCO is charged with advancing the cause of education, culture, science, and communication across the globe. The Headquarters’ central complex is constructed on a famous Y-shape footprint, reflecting its grand mission of fostering cooperation and harmony among nations and peoples around the world. 

Inside of the grand auditorium of UNESCO headquarters building in Paris, France
Inside of the grand auditorium of UNESCO headquarters building in Paris, France

Inside, massive concrete columns on the ground floor curve into sculptural ceiling supports for the upper floors. The multistory glass facade is curved and built on a semi-circular floor plan with undulating concrete canopies and folded walls. The Headquarters’ curved lines and multi-planed surfaces mitigate sound wave-reflecting properties of the hard glass and concrete materials. Sound waves are diffused, a strategy that can create zones of sound to minimize ambient noise, facilitate conversation, and promote privacy in secure offices and meeting spaces. 

Zaha Hadid–Heydar Aliyev Center

Haydar Aliyev Centre designed by architect Zaha Hadid
Haydar Aliyev Centre designed by architect Zaha Hadid

Known affectionately as the “Queen of Curves,” Zaha Hadid has created some of the most beautiful and acoustically perfect buildings in modern architecture. Perhaps the most notable of Hadid’s incomparable work is the Heydar Aliyev Center. 

This multipurpose cultural center located in the heart of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, hosts musical and theater performances, conferences and symposia, and an art museum and gallery hall. The multifunctionality of the space imposes significant acoustic challenges, which Hadid answered in her own daring, innovative, and inimitable style.

The interiors are composed of continuous surfaces of curves and contours, twisting walls, and undulating ceilings that cause sound waves to glide along the contiguous surface planes. High banks of glass windows are acoustically softened by the sinuous shapes of the walls, ramped floors, and flowing ceilings. 

Inside the Inner Galleries, the ceilings are composed of gypsum board suspended by cables. The porosity of the materials, combined with the dropped surface creating a pocket of air behind the boards, enhances sound wave absorption and reduces reverberations, echoes, and other ambient noises in convention spaces and exhibition halls.

Jeanne Gang–The Aqua Tower

Renowned for her pioneering work in biophilic design, modernist architect Jeanne Gang draws both inspiration and motivation from the natural world, from the harmony and symbiosis of ecological systems. Among her most innovative and acoustically groundbreaking designs is the breathtaking Aqua Tower, an 82-story multipurpose building accommodating office spaces, rental apartments, and condominiums.

The product of state-of-the-art 3D computer modeling and a deep biophilic ethos renders the structure both aesthetically stunning and acoustically perfect. The building’s curvilinear design and incorporation of plinths and cantilevers of varied lengths produce a captivating visual effect. The building appears to undulate and wave against the dazzling Chicago skyline.

The curved walls and ceilings and the disrupted surface planes diffuse and break up sound waves, and counteract the reverberations and echoes that can be caused by the use of hard materials, such as the banks of glass walls. In addition, the generously proportioned terraces and walkways, and the monumental roof gardens, provide ample green spaces to muffle the ambient noises of the vast cityscape. 

The thermal bridges interwoven throughout the building, particularly at the balconies and terraces, not only maximize the energy efficiency of the construction, but they also enhance its acoustic properties. The Aqua Tower’s thermal bridges don’t just absorb and diffuse heat energy, they also absorb and diffuse sound wave energy, making the building an oasis of quiet amid the cacophony of the city.

Dina Griffin–Art Institute of Chicago, Modern Wing

Interior of Modern Wing of Chicago Art Institute
Interior of Modern Wing of Chicago Art Institute

An iconic figure in contemporary architecture, Dina Griffin is responsible for some of the most innovative and important constructions in the United States. Many of her most illustrious achievements can be found in her own native Chicago, including the celebrated Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

In addition to its striking minimalist modernism, the design features an array of leading-edge acoustic solutions to create an ideal soundscape for one of the nation’s most prestigious exhibition spaces. This includes the integration of acoustic panels and tiles and the use of hanging wallboard and ceiling suspension systems to minimize echoes and reverberations as sound waves rise and crest against the smooth, high vertical planes of the interiors.

The Sound of Progress at FSorb

Whether you’re an architect, designer, or contractor, FSorb is proud to offer a vast selection of state-of-the-art, eco-friendly sound solutions to emulate the acoustic innovations of these pioneering female architects. 

From FSorb’s SilentLine baffles to the patented QuietGrid systems, these customizable solutions are designed to meet every aesthetic taste and serve every design need. FSorb products may be customized to many shapes, patterns, and colors to offer ideal noise mitigation while maximizing the visual appeal. Thoughtful placement can prevent sound spillover and bleed-through, creating discrete zones of sound so essential in multi-functional residential, commercial, and public spaces.

Contact your local FSorb representative today to explore our best-in-class product catalog and discuss how FSorb can make your acoustic design dreams a reality.



At FSorb, we are motivated by improving human health and do so by creating eco-friendly acoustic products. Our mission is to help designers build beautiful spaces that reduce excess ambient noise while calming the human nervous system. With over 25 years in the acoustic business we stand behind FSorb as a durable, environmentally friendly, and low-cost product. If you want an acoustic solution that is safe to human health at an affordable price, then we are your resource.

(844) 313-7672


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