“It’s time to start designing for our ears,” says Sound Consultant Julian Treasure.
Sounds surround us and affect us constantly, even when we are oblivious to it. Sound travels about 1,130 feet per second, traveling so fast that it fills a room almost immediately.
In a TED Talk called “Why Architects Need to Use Their Ears,” Treasure discusses how architects can get caught up in designing the appearance of a space and not fully consider the implications of the design’s impact on sound and how that can affect the experience inside the space.
We certainly can’t argue with that. It explains restaurants where you can’t hear the people across the table from you, classrooms where you struggle to hear the teacher, and hospitals where the bustle and beeps make it nearly impossible to relax and get some rest.
While sight may be the first sense that activates when walking into a space, arguably the most important sense in evaluating the atmosphere of a space and ultimately influencing how we feel about it, is hearing.
According to the team at Independent Hearing Professionals, “sounds can be interpreted differently depending on the mood we’re in or the emotions that we’re experiencing.” Click on the image below to see their infographic on The Psychology of Sound.
Sound affects us physiologically, psychologically, cognitively and behaviorally.
Hearing is our primary warning sense, so when a sudden sound is heard, our bodies respond. Cortisol is released, heart rate is increased, and breathing is affected. Our body perceives a sudden or unexplained sound as a threat, even when we may know exactly what a sound is.
What we hear can drastically change our mood and emotions. Both pleasant and unpleasant sounds are often naturally associated with life events that are guaranteed to have emotions tied to them. Those sounds bring those emotions back to the surface.
Similarly to how sound can cause our bodies and mind to react, it can also influence how we act in an environment. If we walk into a place with a loud screeching noise, chances are we will want to escape that sound. We will likely become stressed or annoyed, and therefore less social and approachable.
Conversely, if we hear a pleasant sound such as beautiful music playing, we may find ourselves gravitating towards the source. It may cause use to smile and become more relaxed, and more approachable.
The louder the sounds are around us, the greater the effect on how we work. Loud music blasting or several chattering voices can prevent our brains from thinking and processing properly because of the distraction.
Interestingly enough, noise can affect how people perceive their food.
A 2010 study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference concluded that the louder the background noise is in an environment, the less people were able to identify sweetness and saltiness of foods.
This is likely because of the distraction around them prevents them from fully taking in the food they are eating and all of its tastes.
So, what needs to be considered when designing a space?
John Calder of Acoustic Geometry says, “It’s all about reducing flat-surface reflections.” Hear more in this video:
Calder recommends using a combination of absorbers and diffusers in designing a space. Absorbers will take hold of the sound to prevent it bouncing around, but using only absorbers could make a space sound dull and unnatural.
With the addition of diffusers, sound is scattered, reducing the sound strength but smoothing out negative interferences.
How exactly is this achieved? Here are a few ways…
Sound proof insulation
Wall/ceiling/floor construction types
Acoustic ceiling tile
When sounds is given as much attention as appearance, the entire space benefits.
“How beautiful it is to be an architect and design the conversation in a room."
- Dorte Kirstensen, Architect Director of Atelier PRO
Acoustic Geometry. “How Sound Works (In Rooms).” Youtube, 1 August 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPYt10zrclQ.
“Effect of Background Noise on Food Perception.” Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics, Elsevier, 10 July 2010, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0950329310001217.
Kristensen, Dorte. “Dorte Kristensen - Sound Education, København 2012.” YouTube, YouTube, 17 Dec. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVSY5UbmKoA.
“The Psychology of Sound [Infographic].” The Hearing Ranges of Animals – Which Animals Hear Best? | The Hearing Ranges of Animals - Which Animals Hear Best? |, Independent Hearing Professionals, 20 Oct. 2015, www.myihp.co.uk/the-psychology-of-sound/.
Treasure, Julian. “Why Architects Need to Use Their Ears.” TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, June 2012, www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_why_architects_need_to_use_their_ears.
Treasure, Julian. “The 4 Ways Sound Affects Us.” Julian Treasure, 13 Sept. 2017, www.juliantreasure.com/blog/4-ways-sound-affects/.