We’re used to the sounds of the world around us. Whether it is traffic noise from a nearby road, the unintelligible hiss of distant voices, the thrum of an elevator, the drumbeat of people walking, or the throbbing of an air conditioning unit, our living and working spaces are filled with noises–so much so that many humans heartily wish for peace and quiet.
That’s why I was interested in an article I ran across about the opposite end of the noise spectrum: a place where engineers worked to consciously eliminate all noise. It’s a room in Building 87 at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington called the anechoic chamber that engineers built to test certain equipment. Measuring 21 feet in each direction, the room is a cube located inside six successive concrete chambers with thick walls to block out outside noise. The anechoic chamber floats on a bed of 68 vibration damping springs, so the room doesn’t make direct contact with the building where it sits. Finally, the room is lined with sound-absorbing foam and has a floor made from steel cables, as shown in the photograph above.
All of this effort has produced a room that has been officially recognized as the quietest place in the world, with a background noise measurement of -20,6 decibels–below the limits of human hearing. To put that in context, a human whisper is 30 decibels, and the sound of normal breathing is 10 decibels. The room is so absolutely quiet that people can hear their blood pumping in their ears, the movements of their joints, and other bodily sounds that would normally be drowned out by background noise. Not surprisingly, most visitors to the room find the experience otherworldly and profoundly unsettling, and can’t stand to be in the room for more than a few seconds. Even those who regularly work in the room don’t like to stay in the anechoic chamber for more than a few minutes.
I don’t mind background noise. If you’re one of those people who is constantly wishing for a few minutes of quiet, the anechoic chamber is the place for you–although you may end up regretting what you wished for.