Tasting sound in Milan
Imagine yourself being a canteen chef. You would probably do your utmost to make the food taste delicious. Good food raw materials, herbs and spices and a lot of love in the kitchen. But what if the guests still think your food sucks? Try acoustic panels. The Leonardo Campus canteen at the university Politecnico di Milano is living proof that it makes the food taste better.
“Tasting sound” is a project at Politecnico di Milano that has been developed within the research line “advanced acoustic ecology.” The idea comes from the research on spaces for food. It has demonstrated that bad sound conditions can affect not just the psychological and physiological aspects of the guests, but also the taste of food.
“There are two main approaches to cope with this problem. First, there is the traditional approach. It takes into account only objective acoustic parameters, like reverberation time. Second, there is the holistic approach. This also takes into account the subjective perception of the users,” Andrea Giglio explains. He is project coordinator of “Tasting sound,” an architect and Ph.D. student at Politecnico di Milano.
At first, the project was to refurbish the sound environment in the Leonardo Campus canteen using the holistic approach. But there is a problem with this course of action: It is too time consuming.
“So our idea was to reduce time and develop a good digital workflow between performance and geometries,” Andrea Giglio explains.
Digitalising the space
The first stage of the project was to digitalise the space with the help of a customised algorithm. The algorithm helped to create a cause and effect linking geometry characteristics, acoustic performance and sound perception, all in the same digital model.
“It allowed us to define a catalogue of possible solutions in terms of acoustic requirements, human perception and the esthetic and mounting aspects. From more than 20 solutions we were able to choose one, thanks to the algorithm.”
Questionnaire for the subjective parameters
To collect the subjective perception, Andrea and the research team conducted a survey containing 30 questions. The parameters used was the level of satisfaction of several factors like:
- sound environment
- seats availability
- quality of lighting
- canteen location
- possibility to have private conversation
- the furniture
- the cleanliness
- possibility to control the temperature
- the air circulation in the dining area.
“We were able to create different profiles among the users based on the sound perception sensitivity, from low to high sensitivity. It allowed us to locate where in the canteen the perception was satisfying, and identify the main annoying sound sources,” Andrea says.
Control with stand-alone acoustic panels
The acoustic refurbishment consisted not only of replacing the acoustic panels of the suspended ceiling in a conventional grid design. The team also juxtaposed some stand-alone panels, mounted on the ceiling at four different distances. This created not only a dynamic esthetics of the space, but also allowed to control the acoustics in different ways. The number of panels near the main annoying sound sources, like the kitchen, could be increased this way.
“With this intervention we were able to decrease the reverberation time up to 50% at 500 hertz,” Andrea states.
It came out that before the intervention, the sound conditions were the worst factor and the food quality the second worst. After, these two parameters increased its standings a lot.
More satisfying on all parameters
The survey was conducted both before and after the refurbishment. The result speaks for itself. The level of satisfaction increased on all parameters.
- 70% of the users said the new environment had very high quality, also in terms of speech intelligibility.
- The level of sound satisfaction increased up to 50%.
- People sitting at the same table were able to understand each other better. Before the refurbishment, the guests preferred to sit far away from the kitchen area. After, this area was as preferred as any other area of the canteen.
“It came out that before the intervention, the sound conditions were the worst factor and the food quality the second worst. After, these two parameters increased its standings a lot,” Andrea Giglio points out.
Demonstrably, some good quality acoustic panels made the food taste delicious. So, if you will ever eat at the Leonardo Campus canteen in Milan and give the kitchen your compliments after the meal, don’t be surprised if the chef will answer you “Oh – that’s just the taste of sound!”
Text: Lars Wirtén