As diverse as their respective professional training and practice may be, there’s one mission that unites architects, designers, landscape architects, and acoustic engineers alike. They’re each driven to create built environments that are highly functional and pleasing for the user. The goal is to optimize safety and utility while also providing occupants with an ideal sensory environment.
Now more than ever, professionals in these industries are recognizing the critical importance of the sound environment in fulfilling their design objectives. Indeed, there is vast evidence supporting the central role of noise mitigation in supporting physical and mental health, cognitive functioning, and overall productivity (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
As important as it is to create an ideal sound environment for both interior and exterior spaces, the task can be a truly formidable one. Even a cursory study of the science of acoustics illuminates the immense complexity of both sound wave phenomena and of human auditory processing.
Understanding how sound will be experienced in a particular environment involves the consideration of a host of acoustical factors, including reverberation and decay time, sound wave absorption, and sound wave diffusion (7, 8, 9). These acoustic factors are determined by an array of considerations, including the location and type of the source of the sound, the physical shape, height, and width of the space, the types of materials that make up the boundaries of the space, and the number, position, and type of objects in the space. As if that is not enough, the behavior of sound waves is also impacted by more ephemeral attributes, such as ambient humidity and barometric pressure.
What all this means, ultimately, is that designing an ideal sound environment requires a compilation of advanced computations that may well leave even the most learned mathematician perplexed. That’s why, for more than five decades now, computer modeling has played a leading role in acoustic design (7, 9, 10, 11). This article explores the use of computer modeling in acoustic design and describes the technologies that you can use to create an optimal sound environment in your next architectural design project.
What Is Computer Modeling in Acoustic Design?
As has been seen, acoustic design is predicated on the deployment of highly advanced principles, theories, and techniques derived from a variety of disciplines, including mathematics, physics, and related physical and biological sciences. Because acoustic design is such a specialized science, it generally requires not only rigorous academic training but also highly sophisticated technologies.
Among the most important of these technologies are the various computer simulation systems, which have come to be a staple of acoustic design in the last half-century. Computer modeling technologies are designed to perform the complex computations required to calculate sound pressures in a given interior or exterior space. These computations are also capable of pinpointing areas in the space where reverberations, echoes, and other acoustic defects are likely to be greatest.
In addition to enabling acoustic engineers and designers to understand how sound waves will behave in a space given the specific dimensions and properties of that space, computer modeling also helps customize acoustic solutions for the space’s intended uses. The acoustic requirements of a concert hall, a house of worship, a school, a hospital, an office, or a factory, for example, will vary widely (7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13). Computer modeling enables project leaders to formulate the best acoustic design strategy for the functionality of the space.
In addition to the utility of computer modeling for optimizing the sound environment of built spaces, acoustic designers are also increasingly deploying the technology for the creation of simulated environments. This includes virtual environments used in gaming as well as virtual reality simulations used for physical rehabilitation, trauma recovery, and military, first responder, and healthcare provider training. These acoustic models are even being increasingly used in the development of productive sound environments for remote work platforms (14, 15, 16).
Prior to the ascendancy of computer modeling, stakeholders generally relied on scale models of proposed designs to predict how sound waves would behave in the full-scale construction. However, the use of physical scale models was costly, time-consuming, and often unreliable (8, 9, 13, 17). With the introduction of computer modeling in the 1970s, however, acoustic designers began to use traditional scale models as an adjunct tool for design planning and testing. As modeling technologies become ever more sophisticated, the place of physical scale models is being increasingly usurped, though the use of scale models has by no means been abandoned.
The Role of the Acoustic Engineer
Computer models and simulations now make acoustic design work far simpler and more successful than would be feasible with more traditional methods, such as physical scale models and non-digital or computerized computations.
That is not intended to suggest, however, that computer modeling is necessarily accessible to or appropriate for all. Indeed, the use of computer models and simulations is highly complex, often requiring advanced, specialized training. For this reason, architects, and designers without significant training in acoustic science would do well to partner with a highly qualified acoustic engineer before undertaking any acoustic design project.
The reason for this is simple. The algorithm used in the development of the model will depend very much on the intended function of the space and its various physical properties. In addition, the utility of the simulation will depend very much on its capacity to emulate the dynamics of the myriad sound sources to be expected in a space.
For instance, an interior room used as a lecture hall will encompass sound sources that need to be amplified (i.e., the speaker at the lectern at the front of the room) and sounds to be minimized (student chatter, the movement of chairs, the clicking of computer keys, the hum of the HVAC, and the bleed-thru of noises from outside of the room). Some of these sound sources are stationary (i.e., the HVAC), but many are mobile (i.e., the students, the chairs, and the lecturer). This matters because the sound environment isn’t just determined by the static properties of a space. It’s also influenced by directionality, which shapes how sound waves are absorbed, diffused, or reflected off surfaces and received and processed by occupants in the space.
Accounting for the complex dynamics of the sound environment in a particular space requires a deep understanding of the various algorithms best suited to each purpose or context. For instance, wave-based acoustics methods are proving to be most effective for simulating sound pressures in large, open spaces, such as concert halls. Conversely, an approach such as the boundary element method (BEM) is best for determining how susceptible an enclosed space is likely to be to exterior sound bleed-thru or noise pollution.
An acoustic engineer will have the training and the insight to determine which computational methods will be best for the unique and diverse needs of complex spaces and purposes. This helps to ensure that you’re creating the most accurate, relevant, and useful models for your particular project.
Major Types of Computer Modeling Software
While leaving the job entirely in the hands of an acoustic engineer can be an architect or designer’s best option, it is far from the only one. If you desire to collaborate with your engineer by utilizing 3-d modeling software or if you want to get some of your own acoustic-specific software, there are a wide variety of computer-assisted design (CAD) technologies available for professional use across a range of disciplines, from architecture to landscape design. Below are some of the most important:
Catt Acoustic V8 Software: These systems are designed to model sound environments in large, built spaces where superb acoustics are a requirement, as in performance halls. These systems are used to predict how sound signals behave in a space, including how they diffuse through the space and are reflected off and/or absorbed by surfaces in the space.
CadnaA Noise Mapping Software: These technologies are used to visualize and measure predicted sound pressures in exterior environments. This includes the capacity to identify areas with the greatest echoes, reverberations, and sound intensities at both low and high frequencies.
CadnaR Software: These technologies are used to predict sound environments inside rooms. CadnaR is beneficial for modeling the sound environment of complex, multipurpose spaces, including offices and schools. The software can also be used for public spaces where speech intelligibility must be maintained amid high ambient noise levels. This includes restaurants, sporting events, and rock concerts.
Bastian Software: Bastian software is used to model building acoustics. This includes predicting noise transmission between rooms on the same and adjacent floors. It is also used to forecast sound bleed-thru to enclosed rooms from the exterior environment.
Insul Software: In addition to the ability to predict how the physical properties and the location of a space will impact the sound environment, it’s also important to accurately predict the impact of sound mitigation efforts. Insul Software can be used to anticipate how sound insulation techniques used on floors, ceilings, walls, and windows will impact ambient noise. Likewise, the software can be used to predict how sound mitigation materials and systems will affect the sound environment of a space.
How FSorb Can Help
At FSorb, we provide a wide array of innovative sound mitigation solutions for both interior and exterior spaces. Our products include customizable acoustic panels, custom cut tiles, baffles, and sound clouds, to meet your acoustic design needs. That means whether you are partnering with an acoustic engineer, you are the engineer, or you are an architect or designer working with your own computer models, we can create the sound mitigation solutions that you need.
Contact your local FSorb representative today to discuss how our product solutions can help you on your next acoustic design project!
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.
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