Classic ‘modern’ banquet halls have terrible acoustics

Modern austere interior design goes along with straight lines, hard materials like concrete floors and plastered walls and ceilings, and almost no textile or carpets. Beautiful in the eyes of some, loud in the ears of all. From an acoustic viewpoint a space cannot be designed worse than that. Even the minimal sound of a couple of people speaking, immediately creates a standing wave that amplifies within that square boxed space. And besides a rare curtain and the people in the room, there is no material to stop the sound from becoming louder. More people could mean more damping of sound – but of course, those people are not there for the damping, they too want to speak with their friends and family. And the more sound from the more people in the room, the louder they all must speak to be able to get over the background noise. Add a DJ to this feast, and even with some light background music, after less than an hour, the sound in such a room becomes so loud that people are screwing up their throats to get even the slightest message across the table.

I witnessed this happening yesterday evening. I was invited to a friend-of-a-friend’s 50 birthday anniversary. Classic party with a reception, a dinner buffet followed by a dessert, and a DJ to stimulate some 80ies dancing. It was a classic banquet room, close to the church of Geluwe, a small town in Western Flanders (Belgium, Europe). The typical event space for small marriage parties, funeral coffees, baby shower, you know what I mean. You find them in every little town in Flanders, and probably in many little towns all over Europe. Somewhere at the beginning of this century, someone decided that modern austere design was more appropriate for this kind of events, and all the banquet halls started to change their interior. And they all have the same issue: acoustics are terrible.

Simple solutions can help though. More damping material such as big and heavy curtains can help. Cloths on the dining table too. And if I remember well from prof. Van Bladel, who was my professor in radiation theory when I studied engineering at the Ghent university in the eighties, it suffices to put damping material in all corners of the squared boxes to have the biggest sound reduction impact on the standing waves, and reduce the amplification of sound quite drastically. If anyone would be interested to find out more about is, I’ll try to get in touch with my old professor again. Feel free to drop a line.

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