The affects of sound on our experience of space

Why is it that each time I get into a trendy restaurant- modern interior, minimalistic style- I get so annoyed by the horrible sound of this space? It seems like one fundamental weakness of (interior) design today is its exclusively visual quality, setting it outside our emotions and other senses like hearing.

As mentioned before in my post on Peter Zumthor, sound can play an important role in the way we experience space, it is part of its atmosphere. Let me give a personal example; I’m always very sensitive to the sound a door makes. I like the sound of a good old-fashioned heavy door which effortlessly falls into it’s lock and gives you a satisfying ‘clunk’ sound in return, all just by giving it a little swing. How different some other (modern) doors can be, mostly found in social housing projects, with those cold and cheap looking metal frames. Instead of a reasuring sound you get a harsh metal on metal ‘bang’ in return and you can forget that the door will close by itself, no matter how hard you give it a push. Horrible.

But sound quality does not only concern our experience of architecture. Take for example the sound an ipod makes when you turn the wheel to browse through your library. Those nice little clicks alone can give me the confidence I bought a decent product.

Besides ‘pleasing’ or ‘anoying’ sound can also greatly influence our psychological wellbeing. By being continously surrounded by layers of sound people appear to disconnect from their feelings. And because of bad accoustics students in classrooms can miss up to 50% of what their teachers say and in hospitals patients have trouble sleeping, affecting their recovery. These are just a couple of reasons why sound consultant Julian Treasure urges architects to use their ears.

I hear you Julian.