Acoustic Lighting
December 21, 2020
Acoustic Lighting

Recent years have witnessed a growing trend in acoustic applications becoming a source of unanticipated A&E design complexity. It would seems counter-intuitive to employ a specialist lighting designer to resolve an acoustical challenge. Yet UMAYA’s unique appreciation of the invisible lighting design realm has enabled us to grow our awareness of the effects of equally invisible sound on space. In a nutshell, UMAYA’s understanding of how lighting moves across surfaces, voids, materials and geometries enables us to understand in equal terms how sound travels across similar elements. Considering them as two sides of the same spatial coin enables UMAYA to generate further specialist knowledge that can be applied to projects through our single-source specialist sub-consultancy.

Dual Service

A longstanding UMAYA ethos is that the lighting schemes we design and technology we specify be carefully integrated into the very fabric of the architecture and engineering systems we complement. As a result we continually educate ourselves in the evolution of luminaire product design. In this regard we’ve taken note of recent trends whereby acoustic management criteria are becoming part and parcel of a luminaire’s specifications. These days it is not uncommon for luminaire manufacturers to include sound attenuation materials and strategies as part of upcoming product design roadmaps, thus offering the lighting design community new tools empowering us to craft lighting with acoustic design. More and more manufacturers offer dedicated luminaire families wherein sound absorption materials are as essential as the lighting technology employed. UMAYA’s lighting designers are increasingly integrating sound mitigation strategies alongside lighting design schemes in conversations with clients.

Acoustics: A Quick Dive

Its safe to say that as A&E designers, most of us are creatures of habit. As much as we are collectively well intentioned in our desire to research new technologies, materials and methodologies for each unique project; the reality of work ensures that we often rely upon a regular and trusted chain of manufacturers, suppliers and products. In that sense it’s easy to appreciate why any given design stakeholder would select a favored marble wallcovering or mosaic flooring over less aesthetically exciting yet better sound-absorbing options.  The acoustical consequences of such choices; primarily reverberation, can often be dire; made all the worse in projects where the desire for ‘human-centricity’ is key. Reverberation or in lay-man’s terms, an unpleasantly prolonged echo, is quite a common design flaw with a significant negative impact on the health and well-being of users in a space.

Think of the lack of understanding, therefore frustration and accordingly loss of interest students experience in an auditorium having a low speech intelligibility index, resulting in a lecture barely being intelligible. We can all remember moments where we’ve raised our voices excessively and continuously in a bustling restaurant or a busy open office environment in an effort to make ourselves heard. Numerous studies have linked poor lighting and/or acoustics directly to high blood-pressure, depression, distraction and ultimately low-productivity. Post-project completion, negative acoustic scenarios can be resolved through the introduction of superficial sound dampening wallcoverings, ceiling tiles and in some cases even by pumping in ‘white noise’ to match the frequency of the dominant reverberation in a space. Yet these emergency solutions are often costly and aesthetically unappealing. They only cover up a problem that could have been dealt with more consideration early-on in the design process.


Case Study

It seems that owners and developers are beginning to take heed with an increasing number of projects within UMAYA’s pipeline mandating global certifications that require adherence to specific lighting and acoustic design considerations. Certifications such as the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design™ (LEED®) provide clear guidelines and recommendations to mitigate the negative impact of poor lighting and acoustic design.

A recent project showcasing UMAYA’s dual service ‘Lighting & Acoustic’ design methodology is the Zayed University’s Innovation Center. This particular project brief demanded a relatively high open ceiling system, devoid of a false ceiling. The brief was to ‘occupy’ the space in the ceiling void with high-performance decorative lighting pendants that would reduce sound reverberation travelling through the higher portion of the ceiling void. In concert with the interior design team, we designed a lighting scheme relying upon sound mitigating architectural lighting pendants. The resulting solution not only delivered the layers of light our design required yet also resulted in a much-enhanced acoustic scenario. Just as interestingly, the final scheme also considered elements of biophilic design principles through the specification of decorative lighting pendants integrating sound absorbent moss as the primary visual material.



At our core, UMAYA will always focus on delivering a superior lighting design experience. Yet as part of this endeavor we aim to exceed our value to project stakeholders through imparting our knowledge of acoustics. With contemporary lighting manufacturers offering more diverse products portfolios; flexible in form, function and material technology, the basket of potential dual lighting and acoustic tools at our disposal is unparalleled relative to only a few short years ago. It’s an exciting prospect knowing that our fused expertise of the two ‘invisible’ dimensions of architecture; lighting and acoustics, will be applied to a host of upcoming cross-sector A&E design opportunities.

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