If a Tree Falls in the Forest

By Anthony Chilton

21 October 2015

There's a curious paradox between the ambitions of sustainable design and those of good building acoustics.

Many of the design features, both passive and active, that improve sustainability impact negatively on acoustic performance. Max Fordham is at the forefront of sustainable building design, and this expertise has had a profound impact on our Acoustics Consultancy. We have learned so much about how to make these competing ambitions compatible.

But how do you truly encourage and engage people in the acoustic design of sustainable buildings?

Recently Max Fordham hosted the first meeting of Building Acoustic Group (BAG) and the Sustainable Design Task Force (SDTF). The half-day event, hosted at the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre in Southwark, attracted a great crowd with over 65 delegates from architecture practices, local authorities, universities, developers, suppliers and acoustic consultants.

I was one of many presenters who used this as an opportunity to tackle a number of issues relating to acoustics and sustainability. My primary focus centred on design issues in sustainable, open-plan offices. Generally, naturally-ventilated offices have lower or less-consistent masking noise than mechanically ventilated offices. Additionally, passively cooled offices with concrete soffits are at odds with providing an acoustically absorbent ceiling. Using Keynsham Civic Centre Offices as a case study, I examined to what extent acoustic parameters can be relaxed to facilitate sustainable design. My suggestion is the use of distraction distance classifications because they objectively evaluate the acoustic conditions offices.

A number of other consultants were invited to present at the conference, with subjects ranging from the balance between overheating and noise in residential design, to an overview of the acoustic properties of straw-bales. An exciting change to the bill included a Pecha Kucha-style format where speakers were challenged to present their material in less than seven minutes. Jack Harvie-Clark of Apex Acoustics asked the question ‘How loud is too loud?’ when it comes to domestic mechanical ventilation, highlighting how disturbing intermittent bathroom fans can be. I'm not sure we reached consensus on the answer to the queston, but it was terrific food for thought.

The strength of this event was the variety of research topics covered and the combination of ideas. It was an informative format with a number of theories and convictions opened up for examination and hopefully, further study. If you are interested in the conference or any of the subject matter, please feel free to give me a call on 020 7267 5161. 

Keynsham Town Hall, Image: Julian Anderson


Keynsham Civic Centre Image Julian Anderson 


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