Believe it or not, when I was a little shaver at college I was Co-President of the Astrological Society.
The aim of the organisation was to distance ‘serious’ astrology from Your Stars This Week in Titbits magazine – you know the sort of thing – all Sagittarians are outgoing and love travel, Pisceans are poetic and introverted.
It was a job well worth taking on. All that cod astrology stuff is utter tosh without even a grain of truth.
Why I bring this up is that we all know this and yet we still read them. We also know the keys we’ve been looking for are not in the kitchen drawer because the drawer is small and empty and we’ve looked in it three times in the last ten minutes. But we look again.
So there is a part of our brains somehow hard wired to be completely dumb and counter-intuitive and illogical all at once… and being a philosopher with an IQ of 243 in no way makes one immune.
At this point in my writing, as you know, I usually ask ‘so why am I mentioning all this?’, you say.
Well, it’s all about restaurants, public spaces and acoustics and why oh why do the people designing them not bloody deal with the above?
We’re moving offices next month and we are creating several meeting and listening areas in one big open plan space. My business partner and my CFO peered at the plans and said ‘the offices are all crooked’.
‘Indeed they are’ I responded, ‘that is to prevent standing waves’ – what readers will know as echo. Sound bouncing back and forth between parallel surfaces. A square room with a lid will have horrible acoustics.
A room with lots of hard surfaces and square walls will reflect all that harsh mid range that gives you a headache and makes it very hard to hear what someone is saying.
This is not rocket science (although rocket science is not particularly complicated).
In my warped little brain, the main reason we spend money we don’t really have in restaurants with our friends is not the beef carpaccio. The wilted spinach or the bottle of Tesco Rioja on the menu for £29 a bottle. It’s for the company and the conversation.
So can someone tell me:
- Why when I wrote to The Times architecture correspondent Alice Rawsthorn whether she had ever written about bad acoustics in public spaces she said ‘No I don’t think that would be an interesting piece’ ?
- Why, when restaurant chains like Pizza Express employ top firms to remodel their pizza places for children, they cover every surface with material most likely to make the noise of children like being battered over the head by a saucepan and impossible to hold a conversation with someone less than a meter away?
- How a London West End theatre can charge £120 a ticket for a play that no one sitting more than ten rows back can hear more than 30% of what the actors are talking about.
- How conference centres can design their networking rooms so that, when full of networkers, you might as well be trying to hold a conversation inside the hull of a navy destroyer during an exercise in the Baltic.
And why, whenever I bring this up, almost everyone around me says ‘yes I completely agree, it’s awful’ ?
Can anybody hear me? For goodness sake will you listen?
Of course they won’t because they can’t hear me.