By Mark Evans
I recently finished the acoustic design of several projects within an international Airport. Acoustic design of airports is a balancing act – it’s not just about blocking out the sounds of the planes! Noise levels of 100 decibels at a distance of 300 metres means that this is one of the first things we do address, by specifying appropriate sound attenuation properties for the terminal building’s façade; but some people also like the sound of aircraft taking off so don’t want silence – it reinforces that feeling of going away on holiday! From a commercial perspective also, why go to the lengths of cutting out all aircraft noise, when it’s part and parcel of what the terminal building is all about?
Successful airport design requires careful consideration of the complex acoustic environment to provide a comfortable experience for passengers. Architects’ designs typically include double- or triple-height spaces, semi-enclosed interlinked spaces and hard floor finishes. Key acoustic factors include appropriate privacy and speech intelligibility, plus provision of suitable conditions for public address systems.
Noise control in an airport terminal is a fine balance. We need to maintain a certain level of noise to provide conversation privacy, after all we don’t all want to hear what someone plans to do when they arrive at their destination. A constant level of background noise can also help mask sounds from other activities, retail outlets, cafes etc, which can otherwise be irritating when there’s not much to do except wait in the departures lounge with your duty free.
But it is also about making sure that everyone can hear and comprehend announcements. You want to understand that your gate has changed and they are boarding early, or that you don’t have to rush down the pier if your flight is delayed by 45 minutes. Speech intelligibility is therefore an important consideration, and identifying appropriate surface finishes and even specifying upholstered furniture is vital. Just being able to hear speech is not sufficient; it needs to be understood too, bearing in mind that many people will not be native speakers so speech clarity is critical.
Suitable internal finishes can also help to control the noise created by large numbers of people – when hundreds are sitting at the gate you want to still be able to have a conversation with your travel companion without having to shout.
If it is done right the passenger experience is vastly improved, delays are reduced with passenger communication achieved, and the airport is a much nicer, easier and less stressful place to be.