Chapter 4

From Seat Cushions to Formulae: Understanding Spatial Acoustics in Physics and Architecture

I) Warming up the Ear

1) What are the loudest and the quietest rooms in your house (or apartment or dorm)? How do you explain the difference?

2) Pick a local gathering spot (e.g., lecture hall, local concert hall, movie theater, or classroom) and examine its spatial and acoustic characteristics. What shape is it? Of what material(s) are the walls made? What about the floors and seats? How many people fit into this space? Does the speaker have to use a microphone?

3) Visit the Web sites of architecture programs at colleges and universities. What role does architectural acoustics play in the course of study?

4) Many musical pieces depict the experience of nature in open spaces (e.g., walks through the country side, animals, trees bending in the wind, etc.), yet to assure the best quality, they are performed inside. Why is that? What are the challenges facing outdoor performances?

II) Working with the Text

1) What does it mean when a space is "acoustically dead"? How can a room be brought to life?

2) How did Wallace Sabine revolutionize the architectural design of lecture halls and concert halls?

3) What factors influence reverberation time? What reverberation time is considered ideal for spaces mentioned in the text? Give examples.

4) What is the unit "Sabin"?

5) According to the chapter's author, why should architects work in multisensory dimensions?

III) Further Food for Thought

1) Research a concert hall in the German-speaking countries (for example the current Leipzig Gewandhaus) and describe it in terms of architectural acoustics by using the terminology given in the chapter. How do the hall's supporters claim it negotiates being pleasing to both the eye and the ear?

2) Find out more about the Musikverein in Vienna and imagine why the composers Brahms, Bruckner, and Mahler were influenced by the acoustics of this hall.

3) What is the relationship between time and sound? What does this mean in practical terms (for listeners, say, or for architects)?

4) Find famous examples of music depicting nature (that is usually performed inside), such as Schubert's Winterreise (1827). Describe how the experience of outdoor space is evoked in both lyrics and music.

5) Why are seats staggered in auditoriums? Is it solely for visual reasons, i.e., so that everyone can see the stage? Is there such a thing as an acoustic shadow?

6) Research architects or architectural firms that factor sound into their designs.

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