Acoustics First: Sound design as more than an afterthought

Innovative auralization tools such as this testing ground for acoustic design and product solutions can help professionals determine how to meet required STC and IIC ratings for their projects.

Using auralization tools to ‘hear’ a space before it is built
One way that architects and designers can test acoustics for commercial spaces such as offices is to use new auralization tools. Just as sketches and 3D renderings are used to visualize an unbuilt project’s aesthetics, new tools can help specifiers design with acoustic modeling in mind.

Sound modeling tools can enable the specifier to hear how ceiling design, materials, and product specifications can affect the acoustics of a space. One example, referred to as a ‘Listening Lounge,’ tests the human listening experience within a defined area before that area is built, allowing specifiers to better understand the materials needed to provide an acoustically sound space.  (The author would also like to thank Stan Gatland [CertainTeed] for his various contributions on the Listening Lounge concept.) Participants can click on different solutions and evaluate their actual perception of the difference each material makes.

“According to Amplitude Research Inc., 65 percent of workers are distracted by too much noise at work,” says building sciences expert Stan Gatland. “For someone sitting at a work station within an open-plan setting, general office conversations can create a noticeable distraction.”

Designers can use the Listening Lounge to preview the impact of interior finishes, audio systems, sound isolation, and an electronic speech privacy systems (i.e. sound masking), while room acoustics can be adjusted to demonstrate the impact of various NRC and ceiling attenuation class (CAC) levels. These differing acoustic metrics can be applied not only to the open-office model, but also to conference rooms, large cafeterias, and auditoriums hosting public speakers.

(The author would like to thank James Johnson [Armstrong Flooring], Robert Marshall, P.Eng., BDS, LEED AP [CertainTeed Ceilings], and Lucas Hamilton [CertainTeed Gypsum] for their contributions to this article.)

Evan Troxel is associate and senior project designer at HMC Architects in Ontario, California. He specializes in public works projects including higher education facilities, pre-K–12 schools, and civic and other institutional projects. Troxel also serves as a co-host of Archispeak, a podcast about all things architecture, where he shares his passion for and experiences in the architectural profession. He can be reached at

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