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How experts turned down the noise at the Space Needle

Back in 2017, architects laid out their dream design for the Space Needle’s $100 million renovation project, featuring a sleek, modernistic interior, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, glass benches and a glass floor that would make a complete turn around the needle’s axis every 45 minutes.

But for Daniel Bruck, the president of Seattle-based BRC Acoustics & Audiovisual Design, there was a chance that the dream could turn into a noisy nightmare.

“That was a very interesting challenge for us,” he said today at a news conference during the Acoustical Society of America’s Seattle meeting.

Out went the sound-deadening carpet and plush furniture in the restaurant of the 605-foot-tall Seattle landmark — a holdover from the 1962 World’s Fair attended by millions of visitors, including Elvis Presley. In came sound-reflecting floors, ceilings and walls that had the potential to raise the decibel level to rockabilly proportions.

And as if that wasn’t enough cause for worry, the steel-on-steel gearwork that set the floor revolving could have introduced a whole new source of mechanical noise.

Bruck acknowledged that the renovated space has a “clean and elegant” look. “But from an acoustical standpoint, it didn’t give us a whole lot to work with,” he said.

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Acoustic imager makes sound visible

Image: Acoustic image
A color-coded image of an industrial site pinpoints sound coming from a passing truck as well as from equipment on the other side of a buildling. (Credit: Signal Interface Group)

Not even the click of a pen or the rustle of a shirt goes undetected by Signal Interface Group’s acoustic imager. But how about a person’s, um, rude noises?

“We don’t record those,” the company’s president, Neil Fenichel, says with a smile.

The gizmo that Fenichel demonstrated this week at Signal Interface Group’s office in Bellevue, Wash., is designed for higher purposes: to find out why an elevator is whining, where an air-conditioning system is leaking, which fluorescent light is buzzing, why a car’s engine is making a funny sound, or even how a hummingbird does its buzz.

The imaging system, developed in cooperation with Bellevue-based OptiNav, combines several tricks of the acoustic trade.

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