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Article

Michael Forsyth

Sound can be defined as audible vibrations within a relatively steady medium, and in buildings sound may be air-borne or structure-borne. The science of architectural acoustics is divisible into noise control and room acoustics. The following article is mainly concerned with the latter and the ‘desired’ sound generated within a space, because its design has had a significant impact on architectural form; it concentrates on examples of Western architecture.

For an extended discussion of acoustics see Grove 6.

Different acoustical conditions are preferable for listening to the spoken word as compared with different types of music. The shape, size and construction of halls and theatres—and to some extent other building types, including churches—developed historically in response to acoustical requirements. Room-acoustic design, however, is a relatively recent subject of study. Until the 20th century this relationship between acoustical requirements and the building form resulted from trial and error, involving the architect’s intuition and awareness of precedent rather than scientific knowledge. Acoustically inadequate halls were usually demolished within about 50 years, so that most surviving older halls are probably among the best that were built....