HN investigates the effects that the introduction of natural sounds and contextually logical esthetical elements in private and public spaces has on elevating the outing experience to another level
New structures of varying sizes are appearing regularly at a fast pace worldwide. While the designs differ, depending on several basic parameters, one consideration is increasingly being factored into that equation, and nowhere has this become more evident than in the hospitality sector. This additional layer, which comes under the label of ‘experiential architecture’, is called ‘soundscaping’. In contrast to landscaping, which focuses on esthetics, this latest concept, as expected, puts the emphasis on sound. The priority, however, is to incorporate sound into external/internal spaces, while keeping the hardware invisible. While the idea might sound (no pun intended) straightforward, it can nonetheless present challenges.
HN talked to acoustical engineer Tom Schindler PE, senior vice president at Charles M. Salter Associates Inc., a San Francisco-based consulting firm founded in 1975 with an average of 900 annual projects throughout the world, to find out more.
Why has ‘soundscaping’ become so important today?
The connection to the natural world can be beneficial to the health and productivity of people who, since the industrial age, have become more isolated from the constructive stimuli the natural environment offers. Modern sustainable building design has given priorities to natural light/ventilation, views to the exterior and in some design esthetics, visual earth-tone colors and plantings.
The addition of one aspect of the natural world, is only now catching up with these longer-adopted elements, namely natural sounds, referred to as ‘soundscape’. It is the aural matching element to the visual contribution of landscapes. These can be very valuable in their contribution to a hospitality patron’s overall experience.
What are some of the main challenges?
Since it is impractical to bring all of nature’s actual sound sources into the interior environment (running water is possible but expensive, animals practically impossible), the soundscape designer is tasked with creating an at least semiconscious ‘suspension of disbelief’ with regard to natural sounds. To achieve this the following must be considered:
Visual concealment: an obvious clue that audible natural sounds are not genuine is the sight of the loudspeakers producing these. Using various types of visually occluding, but acoustically permeable finishes, the soundscape system designer and architect can create the basis for sounds that can seem to come from everywhere and nowhere; an envelopment.
Sonic fidelity: sound quality is another very important factor. The extent and evenness of the soundscape systems frequency response, lack of audible distortion and noise are a must. The system should faithfully reproduce the highest-frequency content of bird-chirps, as well as lower frequencies associated with higher-volume running water and/or wind through the trees. Content: by nature’s nature, events and their corresponding sounds are essentially random in terms of location (within the listening space) and timing. Other factors, such as intended location type (e.g. forest, marsh, creek-side, etc.), and implied time of day and/or season, are more predictable. At the extreme, samples of natural sounds (both transient, such as a bird call, as well as more continuous, such as running water) could be generated using an algorithm that creates semi-random sequences.
Visual synchronicity: if the sounds of the forest are introduced into a space with a clean, white, flat, rectilinear visual aesthetic, devoid of any natural visual elements, the effect would most likely be comical at best and jarring at worst. The visual and aural elements must combine in a convincing way to create a believable presentation.
Bringing the outside world into the interior built environment can have real value across the board that many hospitality customers are often seeking. Current technology and increased awareness on the part of designers, hospitality developers and operators greatly value from creating this environment that offers some boundless opportunities for a new level of experience.
The Sage Parlour in Mar Mikhael, Lebanon designed by Delphine Gebran