In this article, discover how acoustics became a key element for the renovation of Western Academy of Beijing’s noisy and reverberant central atrium – the heart of the school – by transforming it into a peaceful environment for kids to play, eat and gather.
When designing learning environments, there are obvious elements taken into consideration such as room layout, interior design visuals, lighting, furniture, safety, etc. However, one key element is often left to the side even if it is one of the pillars of educational excellence. And that element is acoustic comfort.
Usually, if acoustics is mentioned on a school project, it is naturally associated with the performing arts spaces, library or sometimes classrooms as around 60% of classroom activities involve speech between students and teachers. In reality, the learning process and good acoustic comfort go beyond these unique spaces.
The canteen, for example, is a place whose primary function is to gather and feed students. However, it should in theory also be a space of relaxation, energy regeneration and socialization between classes.
Unfortunately, this theory does not become reality if there is no acoustic design as students (and staff) waste even more energy just trying to talk with their friends and colleagues amongst all the chaotic noise.
Wide Atriums & Canteens: A Noisy Challenge to Overcome
In 2020, award-winning architecture and interior design firm AnySCALE reached out to us for the renovation of the multipurpose atrium of the Western Academy of Beijing.
As soon as we arrived for the on-site audit we were greeted by the school where they first explained the essence behind their atrium-style canteen: a place to unite the students, the heart of the campus since its inception in 2001.
They revealed that although the current space was large enough to accommodate all 200 children, it was too noisy, and activities couldn’t be carried out peacefully.
The only time it was full was during lunch, and even then, students would quickly eat and leave, while teachers viewed lunchtime supervision duty as a chore.
The Western Academy of Beijing’s Atrium before its renovation.
WAB’s Atrium, Nowadays the Place to Be for Students
The challenge for anySCALE and our Shanghai Team was clear: to bring WAB’s heart and soul back to life, by creating a dynamic, multi-functional and community-building space for kids to enjoy learning!
By working closely together, we imagined and delivered what a beautiful match between acoustics & visual design would look like.
As a place dedicated to the personal and educational development of the students, it was important to keep a fun and creative environment, where imagination knows no bounds, while still having in mind the functional aspects: to be able to communicate without having to raise our voice and keeping global noise levels down thanks to a well-balanced speech intelligibility.
The Western Academy of Beijing’s Atrium after its renovation.
This idea of speech comfort was vital for the success of the space and for the revival of a warm atmosphere that wouldn’t become deserted due to sound discomfort. In order to achieve this, our acoustic engineers worked on the reverberation (echo) times of the space and the noise propagation.
The use of acoustic panels in the shape of birds hanging from the ceiling played a major role in accomplishing our vision, both esthetically and acoustically.
After the renovation, the staff revealed WAB’s new heart. As soon as the curtain dropped, gasps and wondering whispers filled the space followed by a joyous round of applause, improvised celebratory dances and children’s laughter!
Don’t miss the reaction of the kids when the atrium was unveiled in this article’s video.
As a first impression, the core of the school was not only beautiful to look at, but the sound aspects of the space were also noticed by the children. Exploring the new area, they were quieter and treated the space with more respect. As a fun experiment, the children were asked to scream as loudly as they could to “try out the acoustic birds” and then stop to listen to the echo. The results baffled every one of them.
A month into the re-opening of the atrium, we conducted an interview with Mrs. Angela Steinmann, Elementary Principal at WAB where she pointed out that the student-teacher relationships have improved, and that students are using the atrium between classes more to enjoy some peaceful time.
“Acoustics are part of each student’s invisible comfort and we are very aware of the difference it makes. We notice the impact it has in the way children behave with each other, in the conversations they have and their behavior in a large space. Indeed, acoustics is a game-changer, and it should be implemented at the very beginning of every project.”
Angela Steinmann, Elementary School Principal at Western Academy of Beijing.
Many people underestimate the power of acoustic comfort and what it can bring to a school, and although we cannot see it, acoustic comfort still has an enormous impact on students’ health, happiness, and learning process.
Additionally, if acoustic design is taken into account from the early phase of a project, it can fit right into the visual design, integrated into the original intentions.
The Delhom Acoustics team is glad to have worked on this project, which touched so many individuals, both children and adults alike. Creating communities where we can interact, grow and learn better, is a great satisfaction that we are proud of.
If you enjoyed this article, check out how this LEED Platinum-certified international school improved student learning with acoustic comfort.
All images © anySCALE Architecture Design