The sound of new standards in acoustic design, thanks to UB students

Acoustics studio

Students in Arc 593: Aural Acoustics seminar have conducted an experiment which may result in new acoustic standards being set. Photos: Alexander J Becker.

by Brenna Zanghi

Published April 13, 2018

An experiment composed of an empty room and factory seconds of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers conducted by UB architecture students may result in new national standards for acoustic design within restaurants. 

Students investigated what is defined as “the properties of space that can be experienced by listening” in the spring 2017 seminar titled “Aural Architecture.” The seminar was based on the book “Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?: Experiencing Aural Architecture” by Brian Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter, and was headed by UB Architecture and Planning professor Paul Battaglia.

Students listened to pre-recorded narrations and later rated them based on intelligibility.

Students listened to pre-recorded narrations and later rated them based on intelligibility.

The experiment was specifically meant to help the students better understand how speech intelligibility related to levels of noise reverberation and background noise levels. Students focused on restaurant-like settings, where noise levels can vary between soft music and overwhelming background chatter. 

Much of the experiment was based on a paper by Battaglia which came from work done in a preceding seminar. This seminar suggested a personally-defined level of “acoustic comfort” could be achieved in restaurants with low reverberation time, and that background noise was somewhat irrelevant to comfort (within reason).

Architecture faculty member Paul Battaglia's research interests involve the emotional response and subjective impressions created by acoustical conditions in rooms, especially modal resonances.

Architecture faculty member Paul Battaglia's (middle) research interests involve the emotional response and subjective impressions created by acoustical conditions in rooms, especially modal resonances.

With the intention to test the conclusions made in Battaglia’s paper, UB students conducted their experiment within Crosby Hall on South Campus. Students filled the room with panels of sound-absorbing materials (composed of donated Mr. Clean Eraser materials), and dry generic “chatter” noise was compiled from recordings of students imitating typical restaurant conversations—the sounds were compiled into a generic background noise with the assistance of the UB Department of Music. Students also played recorded readings from a book; subjects then rated the intelligibility of the narrator as reverberation times and levels of background chatter were increased.

Student working on sound design.

Students working on sound design.

The data collected and analyzed at the end of their research suggested that, while social sounds are and should be welcomed in restaurant acoustical design, there is a comfortable threshold of reverberation time that should not be exceeded. The students’ conclusion was presented at a Special Session on Restaurant Acoustics during the 174 Conference of the Acoustical Society of America in New Orleans, in December of 2017. Following the presentation, a panel focusing on the acoustical design within eating establishments agreed to work together to develop an ASTM Standard for Restaurant Acoustics.