When designing a new space, focusing on what it will look like is an obvious place to start. But what about what it sounds like?
That’s a question environment engineers Max Fordham were curious to know the answer to. The result is their new SoundSpace, an innovative immersive experience designed to recreate audio conditions – even before a space has been built.
Located at their offices in Camden, SoundSpace is a room where the listener is positioned at the centre of a sphere of loudspeakers. Designed specifically so that the listener will be directly in the middle of the sphere, the acoustics team are able to play sound files through 14 speakers, the combination of which gives an audio illustration, or auralisation, of an existing or prospective space.
The ability to envisage how different acoustic treatments will impact the sound of a space is crucial in the process of designing a building, since acoustics have knock-on effects for users, whether it be in residential spaces, offices, or public buildings.
Pedro Novo, acoustics engineer at Max Fordham, explains: “While the auralisation process presents absolute quantities such as noise levels or reverberation times, we put a special focus on presenting relative changes such as those regarding the sound character of a space, which is associated with the more qualitative aspects of acoustics. We are able to say ‘if you don’t have any acoustic treatment, it will sound like this, and if you do, it will sound like this’, and it’s the difference between the two that we’re trying to illustrate.
“All software like this has its limitations, and of course we cannot profess to know exactly how the acoustics in any given space will sound, but we can give a good simulation. Often our clients haven’t considered the detail of aspects such as sound, so allowing them to experience it for themselves can be insightful and as well as, we hope, entertaining.”
So how does it work?
Max Fordham engineers extract the original sounds from an existing space using a three-dimensional microphone, which captures the ‘location’ of sounds. The data captured is encoded into four components, which are then decoded to omnidirectional loudspeakers to produce an audio experience representative of the particular space.
If the building is yet to be constructed, the sounds are produced using a computer model of the prospective space. Calculations are made based upon reverberation, taking into consideration the materials and dimensions of a room. From those calculations, sounds are produced to demonstrate the impact of varying degrees of sound treatment in the room or building.
The sounds themselves can be experienced in several different ways, with configurations including use of a virtual reality headset, projections of images of the room onto a screen, combined with sounds from a headset, or using the loud speaker system. The combinations aim to take the acoustics from the abstract, and locate the experience in the desired space, while allowing the engineers to tailor the experience to the client and illustrate the differences between designs.