Whether you’ve got a shouty neighbor or a cackling coworker, the noise of others is hard to avoid. Tomás Méndez Echenagucia is enabling buildings to do more to help. An assistant professor at the University of Washington’s architecture school, Méndez Echenagucia uses computational design to change the way sound behaves in buildings. In collaboration with Seattle-based architecture firm NBBJ, he led the development in 2019 and 2020 of an acoustic treatment that can be embedded inside the structure of a building. These wooden panels, which are milled with finely tuned cavities that trap precise wavelengths of background noise, can achieve a 60% reduction in perceived noise—as effective as putting on noise-canceling headphones—and could be used everywhere from apartment buildings to offices. The wood surface makes them easier to clean than traditional spongy synthetic acoustic panels, so they’re ideal for use in healthcare facilities, and have a lower carbon footprint. “We have an opportunity to start thinking about materials that are going to enhance acoustic environments without causing more [environmental] harm,” he says.
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