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Arup's New SoundLab
Now hear this: architects get to hear buildings before they're off the drawing board at Arup's new SoundLab.
Architects and building developers in London can now 'listen' to a proposed building before it even gets off the drawing board at acoustic consultant Arup's recently rebuilt SoundLab, which has just opened. Any space can be auralised, from train stations, sports stadia and airport terminals to concert halls, museums and office buildings. Recent SoundLab projects have included Oslo's Opera House, London's Kings Place, Heathrow Terminal 5 and the British Museum extension.
Until 10 years ago, architects could use only educated guesswork to establish whether buildings would sound just as they expected. Then, following 15 years of measuring buildings and acquiring data, Arup made it possible to 'hear' a building before the foundations had been laid and compare it against existing buildings.
Now, Arup's new SoundLab, in the heart of London, enables the listener to experience the sound of a space or potential space as never before. Someone developing a concert hall, for example, might want it to have the acoustics of an existing hall, but with some subtle differences in texture or depth. So Arup can play a recording of an orchestra playing the same piece of music in the existing hall and then in the new building, providing an accurate comparison of the acoustics.
Neill Woodger, who developed the original SoundLab in New York, says: "We took the opportunity to completely redevelop London's SoundLab while rebuilding our offices at 8 Fitzroy Street. This one is, like many of the theatres we help to design, a box in box construction, so completely isolated from its surroundings, with super quiet ventilation. We've even put the data projector in a soundproofed box and fitted heavy doors more usually seen in recording studios."
The SoundLab can be used to highlight potential problems so that they may be addressed before building starts. By auralising the differences that would be made by applying different cladding or glazing, for example, decisions can be taken on different aspects of the design; indeed, it may even be proven that less sound isolation is needed than originally thought, thereby saving money.
Auralisation can also be used on external environments. For example, continues Woodger, "we were creating a new city park, and the client was concerned that no-one would use it, because it would be too noisy with traffic. So we developed techniques to listen to the sound of the park, including road noise and masking by trees and birds. We used the same soundscaping technique when advising on the design for the Dongtan Eco-city in China, where private cars are restricted and people will expect to be able to enjoy the sounds of nature." SoundLab has also been used for a number of prestigious art installation projects, including Bill Fontana's Harmonic Bridge at the Tate Modern.
London is one of five SoundLabs, with the others in New York, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Glasgow. Woodger continues: "The new SoundLab has, with the aid of the data projector, a giant screen so that visitors can actually see themselves in their new building, whether that be a concert hall, office block or train station. This really helps visitors appreciate the sound of their new construction.
"This is just one further stage in SoundLab's constant research and development; already in development at the lab in Glasgow University's Digital Design Studio is a facility where you can put on 3D glasses and experience a full visualisation experience. The virtual reality programming will enable you to manipulate objects and see how movement of items in the room affects the distribution of sound."
In picture: The Arup SoundLab allows a listener to hear what their building will sound like when it is completed.
27th October 2008
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