The Sound of Space. Ⅱ
ARCHITECTS AND ACOUSTICIANS CREATING GREAT LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
Last week, architect Daniel Heusser and acoustics engineer Jean-Philippe Delhom had a deep discussion on how two parts work together to serve schools with outstanding campus projects. Scroll down for more specific topics and details.
A typical multipurpose school theatre allowing for speeches, townhall meetings, music and theatre performances: Theatre of Harrow School, Chongqing
Looking at the development of a child, we should not only consider the performing values, but also the aspects of well-being, allowing students to explore and test their ideas in a stimulating educational environment. This is an important aspect when it comes to design a school in my opinion.
I think it’s very interesting to see your architectural point of view. Let us take the example of the theatre we talked about. The main difference between a theatre for professionals and the school theatre, even if performance is a goal for both, is that the school theatre remains learning space. And this is what you said, we need to consider. For us, the acoustic design is not only important for the big show at the end of the year. During the whole year, there will be classes. It will be used as a teaching and learning space. This dimension has to be considered into the acoustic design to enable the communication and the use of different experiences before the performance.
A good theatre is also a space where the children are not intimidated. To stand in front of a big audience is a big deal, and it is not the usual life experience of a child. We also have to think about the backstage areas, which should be a bit more child-friendly than in a normal theatre. I remember, when I was a boy, I was singing in a boys choir. And I was delegated to sing small supporting roles as a soloist at Zurich Opera House for some operas. For me, the Opera House felt very technical. It was like a huge machine and it had this phantastic labyrinth of backstage areas, corridors and access platforms for stage equipment. The Opera House felt like an adventure; In a school theatre however, we would try to create a space where students feel more at home. This is important to boost their self-confidence before they go out on the stage to perform in front of many people.
Yes. We think along similar lines when we plan the acoustic part.
A bright multistorey ‘Piazza’ forms the multifunctional center space of the German School Pudong in Shanghai
For smaller schools, however, we will foresee more spaces which will be co-used, like multipurpose rooms, big lobbies or foyers, gyms, canteens or breakout areas which will be used occasionally also for performances, for concerts, but also for other occasions like sports events, briefings for parents, townhall meetings, etc. How do you deal with these kinds of multipurpose spaces?
This is an important part in schools project and this space is quite complex in terms of acoustics, because in the same space, we need to solve a problem of conflicting targets. For example, if you have small groups working together, they need to be able to communicate easily. This means low reverberation, so a lot of acoustic treatment. However, if we put too much in it, we reduce the sound propagation. This might have a negative effect on events where we are speaking and performing in front of many people. So, it’s conflicting, because you want to be able to communicate easily, but at the same time you don’t want to disturb others, if they are working on other projects. This is the balance we need to find. We actually see an increase for this type of spaces in schools. It’s a trend. It’s very interesting, but it’s a bit challenging. There are many challenges coming with these types of spaces, and it is the reason why we work hand to hand with the architects and designers to make it happen.
Great dining atmosphere in the Restaurant of Dulwich College, Shanghai
And of course, as an architect, I have to say that we do not always make the life of the acoustic designers easy. I very much like to design spaces with a lot of different walkways, with many different functions, where you can see what happens around. I like spaces which have an openness and give also flexibility to the user, giving the users a lot of freedom. We like to create spaces which nurture creativity and support a community feeling.
You say that architect sometimes do not make acoustician’s life easy. Maybe. For me that is the normal part of the game. We are not the interior designers; We want to support them. To do this well, we need to be on board at an early stage to understand the intention of the design. Accordingly, we adapt acoustic solutions to the design, not design to acoustic solutions. You see, by doing this, we offer practical solutions.
My aim as architect is to create spaces filled with natural light and with a balance of materials and colours which create a strong identity without putting itself too much into the foreground. What can you tell us about the choice of materials in terms of acoustic performance of a space?
3D renders of the Eurocampus School canteen with no acoustic treatment, compared to the real photo after construction with acoustic treatments.
In fact, in acoustics, we can use any type of materials. If you want to use wood, we can use wood. If you want to use metal, we can use metal. If you want even to use glass, we can use glass. This is not a real constraint. It’s the acoustician’s job to find the solution that will follow the design and not the opposite. There are always solutions. In 30 years of experience, I’ve never faced a situation with no proper solution.
The earlier we start with the design team, the better it is. I give you an example of a project we did a few years ago now. There was a big conference room with a lot of concrete and glass walls. When we started the concept in terms of acoustics, we did a quick simulation. We realized that we had very bad floating echoes in this room so that it would become very uncomfortable. As a solution we slightly changed the angle of one wall to avoid the parallel wall and kill the floating echo. This was completely okay with the designer, because this was almost invisible. If we had not known this before, we would have had to solve this problem afterwards with lots of absorbing material and an extra of costs and working time. This is a good example to explain why I insist on being involved at an early stage of the project. For us, it is ideal to work hand in hand with the designer right from the start to come up with the best possible solution.
Vibrant, colourful sound absorption ceiling in the Swimming Pool of Dulwich College Shanghai
Jean-Philippe Delhom, founder and CEO of the acoustic consulting firm Delhom Acoustique, is a Senior Acoustics Engineer with more than 30 years of experience building better environments and promoting acoustic comfort around the world. Since 1995, his creative energy and motivation fuelled the development of four agencies in Europe and Asia, that have kept themselves busy with over 8,000 projects completed on all continents.
Daniel Heusser, founder and president of VIRTUARCH with offices in Shanghai, Bangkok and Zurich is an Architect leading a team of around 80 employees who have successfully delivered over 150 school projects in China and Southeast Asia throughout the last 18 years.