The Harmony of Architecture and Acoustics: The Magic’s in the Music

Business Development Specialist Julie Woodman recently caught up with Acoustical Consultant Stalin Vera for this conversation about some of the ways acoustics supports architecture.

Julie: As we come out of COVID, I am really looking forward to in-person visits with my local library system. How do acoustics come into play for this type of environment?

Stalin: Libraries today are like a “Greatest Hits” of spaces and experiences: gaming, simulation, open reading areas, private study rooms, arts and crafts, story time, and even audio and media production. The interior acoustical environment is what allows all these diverse spaces and activities to work together in one facility. Minimizing distractions and still allowing for speech intelligibility and privacy is vital, so early planning is the key to strategically locate sensitive adjacencies. This ultimately has a direct impact on the success and comfort of a building.

What types of spaces do children and young adults need that are different?

Story time spaces allow children to gather, play, watch puppet story time and even just run. Gaming and simulation spaces are more geared towards teenagers and young adults. As these spaces can get loud or incorporate sound reinforcement systems, enclosed spaces separated from sensitive areas are typically evaluated to help avoid nuisances. One recent library project also included an arts and crafts space. I would love to take my own young son there!

I’ve even seen a LEGO wall and musical instruments in the children’s area! Maybe that’s why these activities were in a separate room. Can you share with me about how you work with an architect designing libraries?

It’s like we’re all musicians in an orchestra: Architects bring the magic to the music by making sure all elements are connected and working in harmony. Acousticians support the functionality of those various elements by recognizing the potential of and preventing unwanted noise or vibration that would disrupt that harmony. The acoustician’s goal is to collaborate, coordinate, and share industry experience and help identify problems before they occur, or demonstrate that some tech-rich spaces can be doable in a library. This in turn helps the architect find a balance within the design, define expectations, be time and budget efficient, and minimize any contretemps once the building opens.

What are some unusual spaces within libraries that you are seeing?

A recent project included an “Art & Movement” Studio supporting dance activities such as ballet, Zumba, and other types of dance activities. This type of space requires careful acoustic consideration, especially if located in upper levels. Airborne noise levels generated by a sound system and structure-borne noise and vibration generated by the dance activity and footfalls can impact various spaces in the building. We are also seeing simulation rooms which provide training opportunities for flying airplanes, using construction equipment, or driving a commercial truck. Our input with regards to the design of these spaces typically includes interior acoustic finishes to help control noise build-up and adequate constructions to limit noise transfer to adjacent spaces.

Growing up, my piano recitals were always held at the Public Library. Is this still the case?

Yes! A variety of live performances occur. Libraries also have large multipurpose event spaces. In addition to piano, there may be acoustical performances by quartets, choir, or bands that utilize a sound reinforcement system. Libraries are also providing the ability for audio and video recordings. The architect works closely with the acoustician to shape and properly isolate media spaces such as Audio Studios, TV Studios, Isolation Booths, and Control Rooms from the rest of the building and even the exterior. We help select and strategically place acoustic diffusers and sound-absorptive materials to enhance the experience and quality of the acoustical environment. The HVAC system is also reviewed and designed to generate very quiet background noise levels. Nowadays, high quality media content such as music performances, videos, lectures, and podcasts can be created in a Library.

I knew that some higher education libraries provided studio rooms, but I did not know that about public libraries! How does that work?

These spaces often bring in rental revenue for the library. Local bands can rent the music studio to record some songs or have a studio session streamed lived from the library. Other content creators can rent the TV Studio to develop videos for educational content and advertisement. We live in a world of content, as we move forward it will be very beneficial for our communities to have access to these environments and be able to create great high-quality content. And libraries are the buildings that are making this happen.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Stalin Vera: Based in Miami, Stalin’s portfolio spans Public Libraries, Higher Education, Corporate, Performing Arts, Media Production, Radio & Recording Studios, and other space types across North America. He is INCE Board Certified and a LEED Green Associate. Connect with him at Stalin.Vera@NV5.com.

Julie Woodman: When not interviewing fascinating people for articles like this one, Julie is a business development force of nature. She has been credentialed as a Certified Professional Services Marketer (CPSM) since 2011. Julie is a real people person and loves to make new friends – you can reach out to her at Julie.Woodman@NV5.com.

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