“Auralizations,” the Technology That Lets You Listen to a Room Before It’s Built

In 2013, the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based consulting firm and sound specialist Acentech was presented with a big challenge. It had begun advising travel-industry tech client TripAdvisor on the construction of the company’s headquarters for hundreds of employees in Needham, outside Boston. The suburbs, in other words, where there aren’t many places nearby for those employees to grab lunch. So it was decided that everyone would be fed onsite in a giant, four-story atrium, which would double as an amphitheater for company-wide meetings. That decision presented a serious noise problem.

Compounding this clamor would be the highway that the space looked onto, I-95. A glass wall would be all that separated this atrium-slash-dining hall-slash-auditorium from the busiest interstate in the country. How to make all these factors palatable to the human ear, invisibly and on-budget?

Using a combination of software and a vast library of recordings, the Acentech team developed audio files that Baker Design Group, the architects of the 282,000-square-foot building, could use to predict the aural quality of the atrium ahead of construction. The designers were given audio renderings, or “auralizations,” of how different acoustic treatments might mitigate the racket from all the sound sources pouring into the space—I-95, the cafeteria’s kitchen, the atrium’s PA system, HVAC blowers, and hundreds of human voices.

Based on that predictive experience, designers made educated decisions about how to temper the glass wall and which acoustic materials to employ in the atrium’s side walls and ceiling. Today, 800 employees have lunch in the cavernous room on a daily basis, and no one complains about noise. They just sit, eat, and catch up, unaware of the amount of planning that went into developing that easy-going space. “So much of what we do is invisible, but it makes a huge difference,” says Acentech sound scientist Matt Azevedo.

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