I have a love for beautiful architectural design. When I think about the ways in which architects and audio integrators typically work together, the first thing that comes to mind is that we, in the audio industry, can have a very antagonistic attitude towards architects. There’s this assumption floating within our industry that what architects want and what audio people want are at odds with each other. I don’t think that should be the case.
It is certainly true that architects think with their eyes. Architecture is a visually driven profession, after all. But then audio professionals are thinking primarily with their ears, and are chiefly concerned with the sound of a space and what needs to be done to make it great.
The communication disconnect comes when we don’t do a good job of explaining to architects why sound should be important to them, too. Without explaining the value of bringing an audio consultant or integrator into the early stages of a project, it is unreasonable for us to expect architects to get it. I don’t think that architects willfully design poor-sounding built environments. They just don’t know what they will sound like and even if they did, they don’t know how to change things to make them sound better. This is where we can add so much value.
We need to educate them about the mutual benefits of engaging us early in the process. Nailing the audio component of a design-build can be a huge differentiator for an architect over their competitors. Let’s say two architects of equal skill bid on a project and one of them has the forethought to collaborate with an audio professional. Not only will that architect be able to show the client what their building will look like, but with the acoustic modeling provided by the audio consultant or integrator, they can also show the client what their building will sound like. If that doesn’t widen the gap between first place and second, I don’t know what will.
Another reason architects can benefit from the early participation of audio integrators is based on the way spaces across all environments are changing. In How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built by Stewart Brand, he talks about how buildings are first designed and what happens over their lifetime: extensions, additions, cosmetic touch-ups, new tenants, new uses, tear down a wall here, add a room there. It all changes. These days, architects are building with the knowledge that they really don’t know how their buildings will be used from year to year. To accommodate the immense usage possibilities, their goal is to build something that’s as flexible as possible with moveable partitions and room to grow.
If the building itself has to be flexible, it makes sense to wire that flexibility into every component of the buildings’ technology. From our point of view, digital audio over structured Cat-5 cabling is an excellent way to ensure that a building’s audio system remains nimble and relevant from the original build and on through every generation of occupancy.
Our role in the audio industry should not be to simply master our craft. We also need to be able to communicate the importance of our work to complementary professionals who need our expertise and with whom we work. Good audio and beautiful architecture don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We can have beautiful buildings and awesome audio systems all under one roof.
It’s good for us, it’s good for architects, and ultimately, it’s good for the hearing world.