How to add acoustics to heritage buildings

The art of noise control in protected spaces

Projects involving heritage buildings pose many challenges for architects and builders, but the result is often the most rewarding. Protecting and enhancing buildings of cultural significant is an important part of our urban landscape and history.

Acoustic performance is often forgotten with these already complex projects – but it’s so essential for functionality of the space.  Whether it’s a Victorian-style mansion, converted church, old warehouse, or library, acoustic considerations are necessary.

Image: Princess Theatre – A protected heritage building in Melbourne

What are heritage buildings?

A ‘Heritage Building’ is a building of significance for either historic, culture, aesthetic or architectural reasons as declared by the planning authority of that area.

They are put under a ‘Heritage Overlay’ (or similar) which is a planning tool used around Australia to protect these places of importance to the city.

Some examples of heritage buildings include:

  • – Royal exhibition building
  • – Ripponlea estate
  • – Flinders Street Station
  • – Sydney Opera House
  • – Shrine of Remembrance
  • – Hyde Park Barracks
  • – Royal Bull’s Head Inn

Why heritage buildings are challenging for designers & builders

Heritage buildings are difficult to renovate as changes to these buildings are heavily restricted and must be approved by the appropriate governing bodies. These guidelines vary from project to project so extensive research is often, conducted.

Many elements in the building must remain, so one may need to work around intricate ceilings & cornices, large light fittings, elaborate fireplaces, or detailed windows and facades. Structurally, these buildings cannot be changed without permission.

Image: Flinders Street Ballroom Melbourne

Challenges of acoustics in heritage buildings

Heritage sites can be challenging from an acoustic perspective. They are typically older buildings and with limited construction permitted, starting from scratch isn’t an option.

These buildings typically have extensive hard surfaces which can be a nightmare for noise control. Impressive high ceilings, beautiful marble floors or big glass windows – yes, these elements are aesthetically pleasing but they are terrible for sound control. (Think of the sound when you walk around an old warehouse or perhaps trying to hear a eulogy in a large church.)

Resorting old buildings and repurposing it with a new function poses a challenge for architects and designers. Respecting the cultural heritage of the building is a must but ensuring it’s functional for future use is imperative.

Image: Werribee Mansion – Melbourne

Benefit of acoustics in protected buildings

Acoustic engineering is essential to promote good conditions for listening to speakers, performers, and musicians. Acoustic control can vary for each one in different spaces, so it can be a complex formula that only acoustic engineers are well equipped to investigate. Establishing good sound reverberation ensures the environment is comfortable for all.

Imagine the blending of notes coming from a choir singing in St Pauls Cathedral versus the rhetoric one needs to hear clearly in a house of parliament, or as quiet as the silence required in the national library.

Image: St Pauls Cathedral 

Why Vogl Toptec could be a solution

With a sound absorption coefficient of up to NRC 0.90, Vogl Toptec might be the solution you’ve been seeking for these tricky projects that need noise control.

Vogl Toptec works so well in heritage buildings as it can easily mimic the existing monolithic ceiling. Suspended from the existing ceiling or replacing it, can work around existing features such as light fittings, cornices and columns.

As it is monolithic, it doesn’t look like a typically acoustic product. The acoustic spray covers all the perforations, so it looks like regular plasterboard from a distance. Its fine surface texture is 0.5 to 0.8mm, so once installed on the ceiling it appears very smooth.

You’ve also got the choice of any colour in the RAL colour chart. Meaning you can match whites and creams with the remainder of the building – or do something completely creative. The colour is pigmented throughout the acoustic plaster so no need to paint once installed. Find out more about Vogl Toptec here.

Image: Vogl installed in a bar in Munich

What else can you do to help noise in heritage buildings?

Controlling noise can be tricky in these spaces, so it’s always worth considering other acoustic treatments in combination. Sound will bounce around hard, flat surfaces – so softening them will help. This includes:

  • – Installing heavy curtains
  • – Adding carpet or rugs
  • – Soft furniture (fabric chairs)
  • – Acoustic wall panels including fabric styled

Image: Vogl Toptec acoustic ceiling system installed.


Get expert advice from the best.

Want to know more? Chat to a member of our expert team or browse through our Vogl products here.


Disclaimer:  The above information is for general use only. Always check with the relevant council to determine what is allowed when restoring heritage buildings.