The days of an empty, sterile lobby with nothing but a security desk and a skylight are over. The lobby or atrium (or “commons” or “courtyard” or “forum”, etc.) is the heart of many buildings, and it serves many functions: it is the living room, dining room, lecture hall, performance space, and cocktail lounge all in one (while still serving essential circulation and security functions). Atriums lend themselves to monumentality, and tend to feature glass and stone. At worst, these spaces can be cacophonous – we’ve all had the experience of trying to have a conversation over dinner, during a cocktail party, or at the reception desk and feel that we must shout to be heard. But it is possible to weave intelligent acoustical design seamlessly into the design of such spaces, maintaining both monumentality and liveliness while simultaneously fostering easy conversation and control over the build-up of activity noise.
First and foremost, the design team must start with as firm a grasp as possible for the range of potential uses in the space. Once the priorities are set and potential functions anticipated, goals for background noise control, reverberation control, and sound isolation to other parts of the building can be established. If performance plays (or might play) a significant role in the life of a “courtyard” like it is expected to at the Penn State HUB, the background noise must be better controlled than might otherwise be the case. If a “forum” like the one at Olin Business School will host lectures or other public presentations, the acoustics and with audiovisual systems must be adequately supportive of speech. If a “courtyard” contains a café like the one at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston or the forum at the TripAdvisor Headquarters, there needs to be enough sound-absorbing treatment incorporated into the interior design to control the reverberant build-up of noise and promote a comfortable conversation.