Sensuality and Proportion
a primer in sound for architects

Wallace Clement Sabine

In 1895 Wallace Clement Sabine [1868-1919] a physicist, was instructed by the Corporation of Harvard University to remedy acoustical difficulties in the lecture room of the Fogg Art Museum. Two years were spent experimenting in this room, and permanent changes were made. About this time it became certain that a new Boston Music Hall would be erected. From there followed much to Sabine's surprise a vocation for a new branch of physics: architectural acoustics, drawing on the physical science of Helmholtz, Rayleigh and others. Sabine was the first to bring quantitative measures to bear on reverberation, absorption, and sound transmittance. The Sabine equation for reverberation is really the most important quantitative tool in architectural acoustics, being able to predict how 'wet' or 'dry' a room is.

'In order that hearing may be good... it is necessary that the sound should be sufficiently loud; that the simultaneous components of a complex sound should maintain their proper relative intensities; and that the successive sounds in rapidly moving articulation, either of speech or music, should be clear and distinct, free from each other and from extraneous noises.

'Sound, being energy, once produced in a confined space, will continue until it is either transmitted by the boundary walls, or it is transformed into some other kind of energy, generally heat. This process of decay is called absorption.

'Any opening into the outside space, provided the outside space is itself unconfined, may be regarded as being totally absorbing.'

from 'Reverberation' (1900) and 'Melody and the Origin of the Musical Scale' (1907), in the collected papers, republished: Dover 1964.

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