Consulting engineer Max Fordham has created a room in its north London office that can create a sound picture of a future building for its clients.
The "SoundSpace" puts the listener in the centre of a sphere of 14 loudspeakers that create an "auralisation" of an existing or prospective space.
The technique is especially useful for buildings such as concert halls, which are judged on their acoustic performance, but it can also model areas such as offices, in which too much sound can interfere with communication and too little make workers feel self-conscious.
To recreate the sound of a building that already exists, the engineers use a 3D microphone that can capture the location of sounds. The data is encoded into four components, corresponding to the X, Y and Z axes of Cartesian space, coupled with an omnidirectional component labelled "W" to give an aural "image" of a point in space.
When the SoundSpace is being used to predict the acoustics of a building yet to be built, the sounds are produced using a computational model that mirrors that used for lighting design. Calculations are made based on the materials and dimensions of a room, and then are used to demonstrate how changes in design will affect the sounsdcape.
Pedro Novo, an acoustics engineer at Max Fordham, said: "We are able to say, ‘if you don’t have any acoustic treatment, it will sound like this, and if you do, it will sound like this’, and it’s the difference between the two that we’re trying to illustrate.
"All software like this has its limitations, and of course we cannot profess to know exactly how the acoustics in any given space will sound, but we can give a good simulation. Often our clients haven’t considered the detail of aspects such as sound, so allowing them to experience it for themselves can be insightful and as well as, we hope, entertaining."
The sounds themselves can be experienced with the help of a virtual reality headset, the projection of images onto a screen, combined with sounds from a headset, or using the loud speaker system.
Image: The system was used at the Investcorp Building at Oxford University (Max Fordham)