Total Acoustical Design

Taking a holistic approach to controlling sound in spaces yields the best results
This course is no longer active
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Sponsored by Ceilings Plus®, Owens Corning, and Rulon International
Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP

Learning Objectives:

  1. Analyze and explore the fundamentals of interior acoustical design treatment and their relationship to overall building design.
  2. Examine traditional and emerging acoustical system options available to provide sound control treatments that enhance interior design schemes.
  3. Assess the contribution that good acoustical design makes toward improved indoor environmental quality in green and sustainable building design.
  4. Recognize and identify the elements that make up a holistic approach toward acoustical design and beneficial sound control.



Good acoustical design encompasses controlling all aspects of sound entering, leaving, or being generated within a space. Desirable sounds, such as speech, music, or other communication, are best received if the spaces where they originate are designed to help them resonate clearly. Unwanted sound from outside of a building can be distracting or even harmful to people inside. Sound flowing between rooms or spaces in a building in all directions (i.e. through walls, floors, ceilings, etc.) can create similar negative indoor experiences. All of these aspects of sound in a building are important to a successful design much the same way designing a building to use desirable light while controlling undesirable glare is important. By taking a holistic approach to acoustical design as an integral part of architectural and interior design, a comprehensive, successful result can be achieved.

Sound Principles: Acoustic Basics

Sound is energy that radiates from a source. It moves through the air just like other energy does (i.e. heat energy or light energy) which means that it can move through air-filled openings in buildings too. Sound energy can also penetrate a wall, ceiling, or floor similar to the way heat does. Professionals, specialists, and scientists have studied sound in terms of its generation, its transmission through space (airborne sound) and objects (structure-borne sound), and its reception by people. As such, a significant body of knowledge is available on how to deal with sound in human environments as part of the field we know as acoustics or acoustical design.

Sound is typically characterized both by loudness and frequency. Loudness is measured in decibels (dB) such that the higher the dB rating, the louder the sound. The commonly referenced range is 0 dB (threshold of hearing) to around 130 dB (threshold of pain) with human speech being in the middle at around 50 to 65 dB. Sound frequency, meaning the time frequency of the radiating waves of sound, is measured in Hertz (Hz). One Hz is equal to a frequency of one cycle per second. The human ear can typically hear frequencies or sound “pitch” between about 20 Hz (very low-pitched, bass sounds) up to around 20,000 Hz (very high-pitched, piercing sounds) if the person is fairly young—older adults may hear frequencies up to about 15,000 Hz. Sound exists above and below this range, but our ears don't hear it, unlike some animals such as dogs or bats that do indeed hear very high-pitched sounds (over 20,000 Hz) or elephants that can hear lower sounds (below 20 Hz).

Addressing the total acoustic and aesthetic design of a space will help assure a positive experience for the users and improved indoor environmental quality all around.

Photo courtesy of Ceilings Plus®

Addressing the total acoustic and aesthetic design of a space will help assure a positive experience for the users and improved indoor environmental quality all around.


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Originally published in Architectural Record


Total Acoustical Design
Buyer's Guide
Sustainable Ceiling Panels
Deep Integral return (edge design) panels floating without view of suspension for butcher block effect, without the weight. Arboreal made from recycled aluminum with real wood veneer micro perforated for acoustics.
Ceilings Plus®
Rotary Duct Liner
Get outstanding thermal and acoustical performance with proven fire resistance from Owens Corning™ QuietR® Rotary Duct Liner. The strong, dark veil helps resist tears during installation and provides a durable, cleanable airstream surface. Tested at air speeds of 15,000 FPM (170 MPH). A Category 5 hurricane is 157 MPH or more, so you can be confident the material will hold up. And, it's GREENGUARD Gold Certified for indoor air quality, to meet standards for sensitive individuals, such as in schools and healthcare facilities.
Owens Corning
Function and Beauty Combined
Rulon's Curvatone is the ultimate combination of Rulon's sound-controlling Aluratone acoustical panels and the unique curving shapes of Curvalon custom-shaped panels. The panel faces can either be grooved or have perforations in the form of holes or slots. Curvatone panels are designed to fit perfectly in place in the field without the need for field cutting. Curvatone panels are designed for high-end building projects where acoustical performance and high aesthetics are required.
Rulon International