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!

dBx Case Studies - Education

There is a proven link between acoustic conditions in schools and educational outcomes. Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) mandates minimum standards in primary and secondary schools for noise levels and room acoustics, as well as acoustic separation between teaching spaces.

The dBx Acoustics team can help you comply with BB93, but our expertise goes even further. We have extensive experience designing environments for pupils with additional needs, including autism and hearing loss, as well as higher education and noisier, practical workshop spaces.

New and refurbished school buildings must comply with Building Regulation E4 and the acoustic performance standards of Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) ‘Acoustic Design of Schools’. Whilst BB93 is not mandatory for higher education establishments, it typically forms the basis of the initial design for such establishments, with modifications as appropriate to allow for specific HE uses. Where projects are being designed with BREEAM in mind, credits HEA05 and POL05 are also relevant.

There are a number of different acoustic aspects which come together to ensure that acoustic conditions in schools are appropriate to support learning, and it’s so important to get it right – studies have shown that educational attainment can be directly correlated to acoustic conditions.

Our involvement often begins at the planning stage with an environmental noise survey, which allows us to advise on ventilation and glazing requirements to control noise ingress to the building. If mechanical ventilation is proposed, if there is an external MUGA, or if community use is proposed, the noise survey also allows noise emission limits to be set to ensure that existing neighbours are not adversely affected by noise.

Internal ambient noise levels in teaching spaces are also affected by mechanical ventilation, and we work with the M&E consultant to specify appropriate noise control measures, such as silencers.
When it comes to the design of the building itself, BB93 requires us to specify partitions and floors to control airborne and impact sound transmission between teaching spaces, based on their relative sensitivity and noise generation characteristics. The detailing of junctions and sealing of any services penetrations is critical in maintaining acoustic separation between adjacent rooms.

Having provided a suitably quiet teaching environment which won’t be adversely affected by activity in other classrooms, our focus moves to room acoustics and control of reverberation. Often this is as simple as specifying the acoustic performance of a suspended ceiling, but for large spaces such as Assembly Halls and Sports Halls, we undertake acoustic modelling to optimise the specification and placement of acoustic finishes. Where an exposed soffit is preferred, we calculate the specification and quantity of finishes, such as acoustic rafts and wall panels to control room acoustic conditions.

Finally, we carry out pre-completion acoustic testing on-site to ensure that all of the acoustic criteria for the project have been complied with on-site.

The dBx Acoustics team also have a particular interest in acoustic design for SEN schools, particularly schools catering to neurodiverse pupils. BB93 specifies design criteria for “children with special hearing and communication needs”, which is intended to include autism, ADHD and auditory processing difficulties, and assists in providing an environment in which speech transmission is clear and effective. The standard does not, however, consider the other acoustic aspects of school life which affect such pupils, including auditory sensitivities and the need to provide spaces to allow a retreat from the noise and bustle of daily school life. Our team’s direct and personal experiences of neurodiversity, both as parents and as individuals, helps us to understand the requirements of individual educational clients, and help guide the design of educational buildings to provide an acoustically diverse and appropriate environment.

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