Sound advice for universities

The acoustic environment has a significant impact on the ability of students to focus says Shane Cryer of Saint-Gobain Ecophon

Of the most important factors to consider when designing a learning environment acoustics seems to be the most neglected. If the lights go out we leave, but if the room is too noisy, or has a long reverberation time (echo) we tend to persevere, to our detriment. The effects may include:

  • Increased stress in lecturers and students (possible retention factor)
  • Lack of speech intelligibility i.e. missing vital information
  • Physiological problems including: increased heart rate, overheating and irritability, headaches, inability to memorise
  • Poor behaviour (students of course)

However, it’s never too late. Whilst acoustic consultants (www.association-of-noise-consultants.co.uk) ought to be part of the design team from day one, retrospective treatment can be swift, painless and rewarding; after all, the best lecturers demand the best lecture theatres.

The Department for Education is to be applauded for recently consulting on a new acoustic design standard for schools, to replace Building Bulletin 93, part of the Building Regulations Part E4, shortly to be released. The new Acoustic Design for Schools will apply to refurbishment, extensions, temporary buildings and new builds alike. Although these standards are not statutory for further and higher education, a great many enlightened architects, acousticians and Estate Managers already apply them to F&HE projects. Much research has been undertaken into this area of educational design leading up to the forthcoming changes, not least The Essex Study, with forward by Professor Bridget Shield, the current President of the Institute of Acoustics.

“This report is a very welcome and important addition to the literature on the need for good acoustic design…problems caused by noise and poor acoustic design in educational settings have been recognised for over a 100 years’. (Ecophon has made a limited number of hard copy reports available FOC).

It is also noteworthy that The Essex Study addresses the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, which places a level of responsibility upon universities to apply appropriate acoustic standards for the benefit of SEN students successfully integrating into mainstream university life.

Lecture theatres

There are several areas of the campus estate we could address butI would like to focus briefly on lecture theatres. There is an art to designing a good lecture theatre. An acoustic ceiling is essential, but, due to the height of the ceiling at the front of the theatre, sound travelling at 332 meters per second in the horizontal plane, between opposing walls, often never reaches the soffit to be absorbed. The resultant phenomenon is called a “flutter echo” which can render the newest lecture theatre ineffective and even unusable. The lecturer can be disorientated by hearing themselves speaking or have their speech distorted. This phenomenon can also be found commonly in refectories and sports halls. The solution is good advice and correctly positioned acoustic wall panels. An example of all of these factors successfully coming together is the lecture theatre at Grace Academy, Darlaston. Sustainable acoustic rafts and wall panels have been installed under the guidance of Ben Burgess of RPS acoustic consultants (Acoustics-Bir@RPSgroup.com) resulting in a lecture theatre which is on a par with the best in the country. Take a minute to listen to the before and after video.

Ecophon organises monthly case study visits to noteworthy projects around the UK, Ireland and even Scandinavia including:

  • Central Saint Martin’s, Kings Cross, London
  • Queens University, Belfast
  • University of Copenhagen IT Campus

Watch the lecture theatre flutter echo ‘before and after’ video at www.youtube.com/EcophonTV/

For further information or to register your interest in a visit, contact the author at shane.cryer@ecophon.co.uk

 

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