Quiet, please!

Noise pollution is second only to air pollution as a threat to public health according to the World Health Organisation. Quiet Mark has set up the Acoustics Academy to help us understand why

It may not have quite the same impact on the environment and people's lives as global warming, CO2 emissions or air pollution, but noise pollution can be an aggravating intrusion which can seriously impact one's mental health. It is not a new phenomenon, either, as the Noise Abatement Society has been an active campaigning charity bringing the damaging effect of noise pollution to the fore since 1959. On the other hand, properly controlled sounds can add to the enjoyment of musical or theatrical performances. With all of the other disturbances we are currently experiencing it might seem perverse to add yet another, but an understanding of the effect of noise on our lives will pay benefits for us all in the long run.

One organisation that understands noise and its effects is Quiet Mark, associated with the Noise Abatement Society. They have been engaging with the construction and manufacturing industries, consumers, retailers and influencers over the last eight years, encouraging them to establish noise reduction and acoustics as a key element in product design, which has led to them becoming an internationally recognised champion of noise reducing technology and processes. Quiet Mark's purple 'Q' symbol is now used by global brands to demonstrate products that are the 'quietest' in their class.

To further its aims, Quiet Mark launched the Acoustics Academy at the Surface Design Show in London in February to showcase expertly verified acoustics solutions for building sector materials for architects, designers, contractors, trade-buyers and the wider building sector, and to educate the industry on the complex technical details of acoustic design solutions, making them more accessible, better understood and of higher quality - and to encourage design responsibility for health and wellbeing.

Acoustics Academy has been developed in partnership with Quiet Mark's expert acoustic teams, which includes world-renowned acoustic consultants; Anderson Acoustics, Head Acoustics and Intertek, using leading sound measurement expertise to review products and sort out the complex data to be able to compare products. It looks at specialist products, materials and technologies, covering every type of acoustic solution for all building application scenarios. These include acoustic glazing; sound barriers; panels; pumps; acoustic doors; insulation; commercial ventilation; acoustic plasters and surfaces and much more. Building application areas include residential, commercial, industrial, schools, offices, healthcare, hospitals, restaurants and public spaces.

Sound measurement is complicated. It's almost impossible to know how building or interior designs will sound with so many foundational material elements involved, and building professionals typically don't know enough about which acoustic products are best to meet their needs or to suit their project budgets. As a result, sound design can often be low on the list of priorities. Products and materials are selected without understanding their acoustic performance. This leads to poor acoustics in buildings, which are detrimental to human health.

Noise in our built environment can cause short and long-term health problems, including stress, sleep disturbance, increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, as well as hearing impairment. Our bodies are not designed to cope with these constant aggravations and they take their toll. The World Health Organisation defines noise pollution as the biggest threat to public health after air pollution. This is especially true for those with autism, dementia and people of any age with sensitive hearing, who need help to find solutions to protect hearing and prevent hearing loss.

The importance of acoustic design cannot be underestimated, then, especially when open plan living means sound bounces around and quickly amplifies in the absence of absorbing surfaces.

Poppy Szkiler, Founder and Managing Director, Quiet Mark comments: "Acoustics Academy is our new online platform to serve the Building sector by further equipping and empowering architects, designers and industry with expert-approved acoustic materials, products and solutions. Our buildings must evolve to embrace responsible sound design to transform living spaces into harmonious soundscapes that deliver excellence in acoustic design and support our desire for quieter living."

A proper understanding of acoustics is not only about sound supression. It can also be used to enhance the quality of sound in concert halls and similar venues. It's a complex situation, as optimum sound levels and quality must be achieved in all corners of the hall for a range of performances, from a single musician to a full orchestra. This was demonstrated with the Colyer-Fergusson Hall in the University of Kent in Canterbury.

The Colyer-Fergusson music building, situated in the Kent University campus in Canterbury, is a unique and charming venue for musical performances or academic conferences. It consists of one large hall with adjustable and retractable seating, plus a foyer area on the ground floor. On the first floor there are two more rooms holding twenty five people which are ideal for small breakout sessions from the main event in the hall. Colyer-Fergusson is next to the Gulbenkian Theatre and Cinema where there is a second larger foyer area, which makes a great location for registration desks and attendees to mingle during lunch and other breaks.

Thanks to a generous donation from Sir James Colyer-Fergusson and The Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust, the new centre for Music Performance opened in December 2012, creating an Arts complex, and housing a wide range of music-making at the university. More than any other discipline, acoustics figure here to prevent a complete cacophony of sound emanating from rehearsals, breakout sessions and the performances in the main hall itself. To achieve the results they required, all of the doors of the mainly wooden hall were provided by Enfield Doors, who are Quiet Mark awarded and are members of the Acoustic Academy.

Proof that the acoustics work was provided by one well-known British group, the Brodsky Quartet, who said ''The feeling on stage is close to perfect, with that beautiful warm wood all around and the dimensions are just right: spacious but still intimate. The acoustics are just fantastic: one can hear a pin drop and comfortably explore the extremes of dynamics.''

The hall was designed by Tim Ronalds Architects, along with a team of consultants including Arup Acoustics and Carr & Angier. With adjustable acoustics and retractable seating able to accommodate everything from intimate chamber recitals to large-scale choral and orchestral concerts, the hall is able to offer, when functioning at full concert capacity, seating for 400, a 200-strong chorus, and (up to) an 80-piece orchestra. As a flat-floor space, the hall can accommodate up to six hundred audience and performers combined.

Two large, first-floor practice rooms house 25 and 40 people respectively, ideal for chamber ensemble or orchestral sectional rehearsals; there are also two smaller ground-floor practice rooms for individual practice and music lessons, as well as a soundproofed room for band rehearsals.

With the foyer space affording a dedicated rehearsal and performance space on the Canterbury campus, the building will also be available to hire as a venue for rehearsals and performances, workshops and music courses and conferences, which will appeal to a range of local, national and international music organisations.

Sound measurement is undeniably complicated. It's almost impossible to know how building/interior designs will sound if acoustics are not carefully considered with many foundational material elements involved, and architects don't know enough about which acoustics products are best to meet the bespoke needs that each building project requires, leading to bulidings with poor acoustics which can be detrimental to the human health.

Acoustics Academy simplifies the complex world of sound design, helping the construction industry understand and compare the most reliable and best performing products on the market for specific projects or developments. The information that they have assembled, collated, analysed and categorised has been organised into a master directory for their performance, design, sustainability, suitability and cost-effectiveness.

And here's a simple test you can perform yourselves. The next time you venture into a large office space, or a public venue like a concert hall, pause for a few minutes to savour the sound ambience and consider whether it has achieved its aims, or if it is detrimental to the enjoyment of its function.