Deaf Architects & Blind Acousticians?

Robert E.Apfel

Published in 19




Godly voices
Light and sound-and never the twain?


How fast does sound travel?
Do high pitched sounds travel at a different speed than low pitched sounds?
How fast and far do sound waves travel in different media?
What do bats and porpoises have in common (from an acoustical point of view)?
How, in fact, do porpoises & bats discriminate among the different objects in their "field of view"?
A brief summary
Explicit relationships between frequency, f, and wavelength *


Some implications for designing for good acoustics
Tuned to a baby's cry
Soft and low
Speak clearly
Missing tones
Turn down the volume
Going flat
From whence does it come?
The "firstest" with the "mostest"
Lateral sound and spatial separation
Humans respond to change (or what is a decibel?)
Sound out-of-doors (for in "open plan spaces")
The falling off of sound with increased distance from a source?
Acoustic Perfume


The carpenter or the doctor
Cocktail Party effect


Rooms in which we desire to enhance the reverberant sound
Case study: Philharmonic Hall
Rooms for speech
Mother, its a hyperbola!
A caveat
Criteria for acoustics in music spaces--destroying some myths
Acoustical Intimacy
Optimal reverberation times
Case study: Sala de Conciertos Nezahualcoyoty1
The room as a musical instrument
Concert hall design-some bits and pieces
Voice of God effect
Curved surfaces-the difference between sound and light
Case study: Kresge Hall
The multipurpose hall
Case study: Teatro Y Centro De Arte
Sound amplification systems
Case study: Sweeney Chapel, Christian Theological Seminary
Getting down to business


Protection against loss of hearing
Speech interference
Vibration isolation
How good is a wall or floor-ceiling structure?
Case study: Conard High School Music Department
Setting criteria for acceptable background sound level in rooms
Classroom acoustics
Environmental acoustics


APPENDIX A: Sound Absorption Data
APPENDIX B: Transmission Loss Data
APPENDIX C: Decibels and Logarithms
APPENDIX D: Transmission Through Simple and Composite Walls or Floor-Ceiling Construction

Return to List of Publications


Like many of my colleagues who have chosen to study acoustics, I combined my interests in science, majoring in Physics at Tufts University, with my non-professional passion, music. I sang with the Tufts chorus and ended up doing a thesis on the acoustics of Tuft's Cohen Auditorium-at that time an acoustical disaster. Although I concentrated on ultrasonics and materials science in my graduate work at Harvard, my Ph.D. advisor provided an excellent course on the fundamentals of architectural acoustics, complementing a more practical course at MIT that I audited as a senior at Tufts. That course was taught by Robert Newman, a founder of one of the first large acoustical consulting firms, Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Inc. (BBN) I worked during the semester after my first year of graduate work at BBN on a problem of noise control in the Apollo Command Module. During those graduate school years, and after I arrived at Yale as an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering and Applied Science, I occasionally consulted in architectural and environmental acoustics, and beginning in the early 70's I began teaching a course in architectural acoustics in the Yale School of Architecture. That course evolved from a full semester elective, mostly taken by the technically directed students in the School of Drams, to a required one-month, short course in the Environmental Controls sequence taught by Professor Everett Barber. He, like I, spent nearly two decades learning to adapt our technical courses to the very special mindset found in many students of architecture. It has been a sometimes frustrating, but mostly rewarding, learning experience.

Deaf Architects and Blind Acousticians? A guide to the Principles of Sound Design (a.k.a. DABA) tried to be little more than a starting point for architects and future architects, acousticians, and planners, as well as any individual who wants to go beyond and appreciation of the subject to a working knowledge of nomenclature and quantitative issues in the acoustics of architectural spaces.

I do not practice architectural acoustics on a regular basis. I occasionally consult, especially with new and renovated spaces at Yale, and have been involved intensely in one large arts center project. But I am a student of architectural acoustics and have spent a score of years studying the pedagogy of instruction in architectural acoustics.

I owe much to many practicing experts in the field, some who have contributed to the several case studies that punctuate the story I try to tell in DABA Leo Beranek, one of the original heroes in this field, has graciously provided input to the discussion of the important learning experience of New York's Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher), and has given permission for the graphic material used in the case study on Kresge Hall. Carl Rosenblum and the Acoustical Society of America are also acknowledged for their important input on this section. Chris Jaffe of Jaffe Holden Scarbrough Acoustics, my friend from Connecticut, has demonstrated in the case study (Sala de Conciertos Nezahualcoyoty1) and in other spaces that one can go beyond the shoe box hall and produce a superb result. David Klepper properly chided me for not introducing sound reinforcement systems adequately in an early draft of DABA, and took the bait in providing the source materials for that section, as well as the case study on Sweeney Chapel. My fellow Yale colleague, George Izenour, has demonstrated by his extraordinary record of practice in theatre design and by his magnificent tome of the same title, he and McGraw-Hill have given permission to use the graphical representation of the variable acoustics of Jones Hall, Houston, Texas. I also acknowledge Progressive Architecture’s permission to use figures and some text from their article on the Conard High School Music Department, West Hartford, CT.

Over the years I have greatly benefited from the many informal conversations on architectural acoustics from my friends in the field. A special note of thanks to Bill Cavanaugh whom I've known since 1965 when he has at BBN, and, Bob Essert, who studied acoustics with me, before joining Artec (headed by Russell Johnson, another Yalie), and then moving to Arup Acoustics Boston House in London. Mr. David Egan's book Architectural Acoustics, (McGraw-Hill) has been a wonderful source of information, which I suggest my students purchase if they want to get more deeply into the topic than my primer goes.

Finally, I thank my wife, Nancy, who knows me best and who has helped me understand the most important acoustical principle: One cannot hear if one does not listen.

Return to top

Back to List of Publications

© 1998 Acoustical Society of America