29 Aug A Career in Acoustical Consulting
Under the umbrella of engineering opportunities lies the field of acoustics, a smaller yet undeniably valuable realm that focuses on the intersection of physics and social impact. In a nutshell, acoustical consultants ensure that spaces sound as per their intended function.
How does someone get into acoustics? We sat down with our two newest team members, James Leader (resident underwater noise expert, hailing from Australia) and Joonas Niinivaara (room acoustics maestro, originally from Finland and more recently Toronto, Ontario) to get a low-down on the paths that led them to their current careers and what their working lives look like.
Was acoustics a top-of-mind career choice for you since childhood? If not, how did you get started in acoustics?
JL: I had never considered becoming an acoustical engineer until the last couple of years of university, where I took the core acoustics and vibration unit as part of the mechanical engineering degree and loved it. I ended up getting an internship with the Department of Defence working on developing new submarine sonar systems, and moved into consulting after graduation.
JN: During my freshman year at an engineering university, I’d met some seniors who told me that acoustics would be the right fit for me. When I actually started taking courses in the subject in my senior university years, I was fascinated by the subject and its real-world application. While volunteering at a music event, I met a fellow who seemed to know a lot about the subject and he ended up being my first boss not too long after. As it turns out, he was one of the founders of Akukon Ltd., one of Finland’s leading acoustical consulting firms.
What’s your day-to-day like?
JL: Most of the time is spent getting data into formats that we can work with and understanding what people want, that is, taking phone calls, attending meetings, and reading legislation and guidelines. Calculations are then done using software packages which we have to make sense of using our experience to recommend products and solutions to acoustic problems.
JN: No two days are really ever the same! You tend to prioritize based on the deadlines and the scale of the projects.
What are the pros and cons to being a consultant?
JL: I like that consultants run many small projects in parallel which have a clear start and end. It helps keep things fresh and lets us experience a range of industries and problems. The only con that I can think of is that unlike a research position at a university we are most often driven to produce fast solutions with a limited budget, so the technical depth can be limited.
JN: For pros, the ability to work from anywhere is quite nice. As for the downside of being an acoustical consultant, sometimes, the budgetary restrictions don’t allow the level of investigation needed.
What’s different about doing acoustics work in Canada? How about Vancouver, specifically?
JL: A lack of regulation and guidelines compared to Europe, the UK, and Australia. This means that we often have to present a variety of valid approaches to a problem rather than just one.
JN: Everyone’s end goal is the same. How you get there might be a bit different depending on where you are.
What are some of the more fascinating projects you’ve been part of?
JL: The new schools were quite interesting because they were pushing state-of-the-art requirements in acoustic separation, noise emission, and room acoustics, so these projects required some novel design work and lots of design iteration.
JN: Kamppi Chapel (Kampin Kappeli in Finnish), known as the “Chapel of Silence” is located in the Helsinki downtown core. The name hints the value of sound (or lack thereof) in this space, as it is meant to provide anyone with a moment of peace from the pace of the city. It was one of my first projects at Akukon.
A career as an acoustician allows you to work for lots of industries. What’s your specialty?
JL: I do underwater acoustics and electro-mechanical design, which not a lot of other consultants have experienced.
JN: Within the umbrella of architectural acoustics, I have an affinity to room acoustics. This entails sound within a space.
Outside of work, what are your hobbies?
JL: I moved to Vancouver for the mountains: hiking, snowboarding, and mountain biking, so I will have to list those.
JN: I enjoy playing the guitar as well as writing and arranging music. Outside of the world of acoustics, I love spending time with Bugi, our trusty golden retriever. We also have two cats running around the apartment. I enjoy snowboarding as well—I hear there might be a few good spots for that here.
Most of BKL’s acoustical consultants play a musical instrument or two. Are you the same or are you the combo-breakers?
JL: I played lead guitar for a heavy metal band for a while, but haven’t touched it in almost a decade.
JN: As a kid, I learned how to play the piano but switched to playing the guitar at the age of 13. Back in Finland, I had a seat in the rhythm section of a full-size jazz orchestra, and in Toronto, it wasn’t uncommon for me dip onto the stages of the various live music venues from time to time.
Heavy metal? Jazz orchestra? Like James and Joonas, every acoustician has a unique background. What they share is curiosity about how the world sounds and the ability to successfully apply their education and experiences on an array of projects across sectors. If you’re looking for a dynamic career that combines technical know-how, problem-solving, and project management, acoustics might be a good fit—even if you’re not a guitar player.