book review

Architectural Acoustics
Marshall Long, Academic Press, 2006, 844 pages
Reviewed By

T his textbook discusses the theory and practice of designing buildings, houses, and concert halls to improve their acoustical properties. It is an excellent introduction, not just for architects, but to anyone interested in how building designers deal with unwanted sound.

The presentation gradually moves from the abstract and mathematical to the concrete. The first 200 pages of this book are a review of the basic principles of psychoacoustics, sound measurement, and the physics of sound. Starting with the equations of wave acoustics, Long compares the approaches of different researchers in modeling sound attenuation, reverberation, and the abilities of various construction materials such as concrete, glass, and wood to reflect, absorb, and diffuse sound.

Next, Long discusses techniques for noise abatement in houses and commercial buildings. HVAC systems, plumbing, floors and ceilings all require particular attention during the design phase to prevent the transmission of unwanted sound. Long includes examples of good and bad ventilation systems, diagrams of different kinds of thermopane windows, and ceiling attachment methods. Although these may seem like mundane topics, failure to consider them can result in a building that the occupants consider uninhabitable. A badly designed building may emit infrasonic vibrations that can cause fatigue and interfere with productivity, or may have so many sound reflections as to make private conversations impossible.

Long then turns to his main interest: architectural features of various concert halls and auditoriums he was involved in designing. He reserves his highest praise for the Boston Symphony Concert Hall. The challenges and design tradeoffs are illustrated with small architectural drawings.

There is no information on non-architectural topics as car mufflers, active noise reduction or electronic aspects of sound generation. There is also little information about the spectral properties of sound from various sources. In an 800 page book like this one, there are bound to be a few repetitions. For example, an almost identical passage on floor squeak in wood structures is presented three times.

The presentation is at a medium level; there are numerous equations on each page, but the mathematics is relatively simple, involving mostly vector calculus, at the level of first year physics. There are numerous architectural diagrams (on an extremely small scale), tables, and graphs.

Architectural Acoustics is also full of interesting facts, such as why sound at some frequencies carries such a great distance over acoustically hard surfaces like water, why sound carries much farther downwind than upwind, why concert halls and conference rooms should not be square, why subwoofers should be in the corner, and why sound absorbing cushions and massive sound-absorbing objects like sopranos are most effective at the center of a room.

A second edition was published in 2014.