dBx Acoustics

The Sound Of… Death?

At a networking event recently I met an undertaker.  I have to admit that although nobody at networking is ever irrelevant, as I introduced myself to him I did say “I can’t imagine you’d have much need for acoustic advice”.

Well he pretty quickly set me straight – and got me thinking too, about areas where good acoustic conditions are actually vitally important to both the functioning and ambience of a space.  It’s more likely that you will comment on how poor the acoustics of a space are than how good – if people like me do our job well you probably won’t realize we were ever there.

Hopefully at this stage you are a little curious as to what possible need the dead could have for my services. You’re right – they don’t – but acoustics for the living as part of their grieving experience can be critical.

My undertaker friend is in the process of designing his “dream chapel” and a big part of this for him is the ambience.  He wants to create an atmosphere of calm, peace and warmth.  Acoustically this means cutting out the noise of the outside world – cars, planes etc.  But then within the building, the room acoustics must help to calm people, to be peaceful – I translate this as meaning spaces shouldn’t be too reverberant, that footsteps should be muffled, and that you don’t hear doors slamming, chairs scraping etc.

Privacy was also something that started to seem obvious once I thought about it.  In a scenario where you may have more than one chapel of rest, sound insulation between spaces is crucial. People need to be able to grieve in privacy, without being disturbed or worrying that they are causing any disturbance.

My thinking of this expanded even further when I was approached by Green Acres Woodland Burials to review their proposals for a site near Liverpool.  They start on site at the end of the month so the proposals are well developed, but they haven’t had an acoustic consultant involved.

The basic premise of the scheme is to have two buildings in a wooded valley far from traffic and other people.  One building is a mixed admin and ceremonial space, and the other is a standalone “Woodland Hall”.  Both the ceremonial space and Hall are designed along similar lines – tall, timber spaces with a fully glazed façade looking out over the woodland as people pay their respects to the deceased in whichever way they see fit.  The spaces then also double up as function rooms for a wake.

I’m really excited about getting my teeth into these; ultimately it’s a bit like designing a lecture theatre in that you want speech to spread as evenly and naturally as possible.  But it’s something more that you might not care so much about at Uni or College – that feeling of tranquility. Something quite intangible which the soundscape is a fundamental part of.

Incidentally, although the undertaker and I didn’t strike a deal, I think he was well on the way to winning a contract with a well known bingo hall by the end of the meeting. And I may try to negotiate a funeral discount as part of my fee!