New Orleans is approximately 6,110 miles from Mount Cithaeron in Greece where it is said that the Greek nymph Echo dwells in a distant and forgotten cave. Long ago, Echo, having been cursed by Hera, was condemned to a cave only able to repeat the last word of another who spoke first.
Echoes, when not of the mythical variety, are a reflection of sound off a surface that arrives back to the listener. Architecturally, this phenomenon exists in a variety of spaces sometimes intentional, sometimes not. The initial intent of this Design Grant was to focus on an often-overlooked aspect of design: sound and acoustics.
As designers, it is important to consider sound and its immense impact on the experience of our built environment. Many design certification systems acknowledge the health and performance benefits of proper acoustics: LEED, WELL Building, and Living Building to name a few.
The late 2015 article addressed to architects, Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times wrote, “During the Middle Ages, smell was the unspoken plague of cities. Today it is sound.”
Through the construction of a temporary sound installation, the design grant aimed to study the following questions:
I. What are ways, spatially and materially, to affect noise levels in interior spaces?
II. What are the benefits of semi-private, acoustically separated environments in an office space?
III. What cost-effective, minimally intrusive ways could we improve sound attenuation in our office?
Sound attenuation (or acoustic attenuation): the measure of the energy loss of sound propagation in media.
Sound Transmission Class: Measure of the ability of a wall or floor assembly to isolate airborne sound and prevent it from passing from one side to the other.
I. In the early portion of the year, the Team was able to tour the New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Mint as an architectural case study to survey the conditions of a performance space carefully designed for live performance and recording. The design for the performance space took into consideration sound attenuation strategies to help mitigate noise from the French Quarter streets just outside the Museum’s windows.
The case study visit provided an opportunity for the design grant team members to experience a space that actively responded to contextual sound and noise conditions to create an environment that would perform acoustically as well as visually.
II. In 2018, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple hired two research Fellows to conduct research on sound and vision. The fellowship is described as:
Our experience of the world inside is shaped by the choices made by designers that reflect, absorb, shape, and color waves of sound and light. This sculpting of sound and light affects not just our perception of space or enjoyment of art, but also the health and productivity of those who live and work in buildings.
New results in the connections between visual, acoustic, and neurobiological sciences are transforming architectural practice. We now know that good seeing is much more than a matter of mere footcandles, and good hearing is more complex than simple decibels.
The fellows, Hannah Berryhill and Sam Gochman, were able to assist throughout the Design Grant effort providing necessary research, knowledge, and construction skills to help complete a temporary sound installation for the office at Eskew+Dumez+Ripple. The fellows were able to assist in providing information to the team and the office about cost effective materials and design solutions for varying wall assemblies to utilize in projects that would benefit from more attentive sound solutions.
III. The research fellows were also in charge of the office’s participation in New Orleans PARK(ing) Day 2018. The focus of the parking day design was to construct a sound sanctuary asking simply, “How might we improve our urban soundscape?”
The installation was a wooden cube that provided an enclosed space that used acoustic foam to offer respite from the noisy urban environment and an open space that would amplify more pleasant alternatives to urban noise.
The design grant team was able to combine efforts with the fellows to assist in the design and construction of the parking day installation. After a successful deployment of the design, the team decided to reuse the materials in a new form as the grant’s temporary installation inside the office.
Focusing on sound absorption, the design grant team was able to create two moveable installations that would assist in reducing noise levels within an enclosed space to emphasize direct sounds and improve speech intelligibility. One installation would be for a single occupant and the other would be large enough for two people to have a conversation. The team was able to reuse 90% of the Parking day materials for the office installations.
The first two installations were completed and are being used in the office today. The reworking of the Parking Day design has allowed the team to study how staff members utilize the sound installations in the office. Careful monitoring of use and participation can inform future iterations of the sound installations as either office phone booths, acoustically treated conference room, or sound isolation spaces within the office.
Sound is an important part of sensory perception that is often overlooked in the design practice. In focusing the design grant on sound, our team was able to explore temporary acoustic installations in an interior office environment. These explorations heightened our awareness of certain obstacles that we face in designing spaces for noise reduction and calibrated interior acoustics. The research fellowship will continue to build on the work the design grant team was able to initiate and, together, the team and fellows will be able to provide a knowledge base for the office to use moving forward.