Companies working in the acoustics field within Australia are facing significant areas of challenge and opportunity amid a number of ongoing structural changes which are taking place throughout the overall design and construction landscape.

While the basics of what acoustics practices do – measuring, forecasting and reporting on noise – have not changed, leaders within the discipline say broader changes within the building and design sectors are affecting the nature and amount of acoustics work involved, how the work is performed and the type of challenges faced by clients in terms of meeting their noise-minimisation requirements.

First, the need for acoustics services is growing as urban densification brings different types of building users into closer proximity. The growing popularity of mixed-use developments, for example, is creating an increasing requirement for noise sensitive office and residential users to be accommodated in the same building as noisier retail outlets and restaurants.

Likewise, noise sensitive residential and commercial users are increasingly encroaching on space occupied by noise intensive industrial counterparts, creating a need not only for developers of new buildings in these areas to implement strong acoustic design strategies but also for existing users of warehousing and manufacturing space to do likewise in order to accommodate their new noise sensitive neighbours. In the southern part of Sydney, for example, significant volumes of warehouse and industrial space are being converted into residential use. In Brisbane, the Kurilpa Master Plan will see around 10,000 residential units built near space occupied by a number of existing high noise-emitting industries in Brisbane’s west.

“The range of clients requiring acoustics services is increasing,” said Rhys Brown, team leader – Acoustics at AECOM. “It’s not just the multi-res developer now, it’s the mixed use developer, it’s the commercial developer who is moving into the industrial area, it’s the industrial operator who has got all these users adjacent to them.”

“Really, it’s the range of clients expanding which each create their own unique needs and demands with regard to acoustics.”

Richard Finley, senior associate and chairman of the Acoustics R&D Committee at Norman Disney & Young, agreed.

“The ongoing intensification of urban spaces will continue to challenge local authority decision makers and the engineers advising them,” Finlay said. “The successful co-location and addressing of competing demands – often within the same facility – will ensure qualified acousticians remain busy.”

Another change revolves around the growing importance of government funded infrastructure projects as a proportion of overall work. Whereas some private sector clients are more open to rationalising design requirements and accepting a degree of design risk in order to recognise cost savings, Finlay said this is not the case for public sector work, which is governed by strict contractual guidelines. This, he said, creates challenges for design consultants, especially as having a meaningful interface with decision makers and their advisers about these requirements at a mutually beneficial point in the project can be challenging.

Technology, too, is creating opportunities and challenges. This includes BIM as well as the expansion of general computing power to more easily generate graphical representations of noise at more location points, giving designers and cost planners greater insight about options which could meet requirements whilst saving on costs. On projects such as the Hamilton Harbour development and the Regency Tower, Brown said, noise was able to be forecast at more than 20,000 locations on the façade.

Still, even this brings challenges. On small to medium projects, Finlay said the decision as to whether or not a more extensive (and expensive) detailed modelling exercise should be undertaken in lieu of more traditional methods can be challenging. This is particularly the case when the appetite for ‘captivating and colourful visuals’ on the part of regulatory authorities clashes with lack of the need of a full 3D model from a client’s perspective in cases where only a few critical locations need to be assessed.

Brown, meanwhile, said the field of acoustics has not progressed as quickly as larger disciplines such as mechanical and electrical when it comes to BIM uptake, and will need to catch up as architects increasingly demand feedback through BIM on matters like acoustics similar to what they get with mechanical and electrical.

Going forward, Finlay sees opportunities for growth not only because of urban densification but also as awareness about the importance of acoustics within the built environment grows.

He said those who prosper will continue to develop not only specific expertise within the area but also a sound understanding of broader building processes.

“As the architectural and HVAC industries come to expect more cost-effective proven designs, the best acoustic consultants are going to develop a high degree of practical expertise and construction knowledge to ensure their designs are delivered,” Finlay said. “Clients will come to value these acoustical consultants who understand, and can deliver, the appropriate design solutions with a vision on optimal built outcomes.”