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FORM AND FUNCTION – DESIGNING FOR BETTER ACOUSTICS

In designing any space there needs to be a consideration of not only the aesthetics, but also an understanding of its function if we are to understand the effect it has on the people within it. While not always fully appreciated, the acoustics are a key part of peoples’ experiences of a building and should be considered in line with the room’s function. If the acoustics are not viewed in the same way as the aesthetics, the room’s design may fail.

Sound surrounds us in every aspect of our lives and in commercial settings creating good acoustics has proven benefits for employee wellbeing and productivity as well as customer satisfaction and comfort.

The development of acoustics for any building must start with the characteristics of the space and how it will be used – we call this activity based acoustic design. For example, offices, restaurants and retail environments will all have very different challenges and requirements and large open spaces present different issues to enclosed spaces. In addition, the surfaces and materials used will have an effect. Hard surfaces such as concrete walls, glass and even table and chairs will all contribute to the transmission of sound within an area.

For open plan offices the propagation of noise can be a significant challenge. While these open layouts allow people to work more collaboratively, communicate more freely and even encourage workers to be more physically active they can have negative effects if acoustics are poor. Other people’s conversations, phones ringing and the sound from office equipment all present distractions and anyone that has worked in an open plan space will be familiar with the escalating levels of noise that can occur. This noise is shown to be detrimental to concentration and it is estimated that unwanted noise can account for as many as 24 days of lost productivity a year. An increasing number of studies have also linked noise to increased levels of stress and fatigue.

Installing sound absorbing panels on ceilings and walls will help minimise disturbance by preventing speech and other sounds from spreading. For this, acoustic treatments such as  free hanging panels offer a flexible, easy to install solution for when a full acoustic ceiling is not desired for practical or aesthetic reasons. They also provide the flexibility of installing them at the height where they will be most effective, such as directly over areas of concentrated noise. This prevents sound levels from escalating and removes the need for people to raise their voices to be heard.

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Many open plan offices will have smaller project or meeting rooms for the purpose of containing noise and providing privacy. The sound insulation in these rooms not only needs to prevent noise from travelling into the main office space but also limit reverberation within the room. Ceiling and wall panels with good absorption qualities at vocal frequencies will prevent the wall-to-wall echoes that can reduce speech clarity.

Many of the issues of open plan offices also exist in busy restaurants where conversations and general activity sounds can create a high level of ambient noise – especially if there are a lot of hard surfaces. Here, the use sound absorbing systems will deliver improved acoustics by limiting the transmission of sound and stop the noise levels rising excessively. This creates a more comfortable environment and ensures a positive customer experience.

However, the visual design of a space is just as important to the users’ perception and experience. For this reason, sound management measures must integrate and even enhance the aesthetics. This concept is behind the development of modern acoustic solutions. Flexibility in terms of shapes, sizes and colours allow designers to express themselves creatively while creating a comfortable acoustic environment. Acoustic systems are no longer just a functional product but form a continuation of the design and even create a point of visual interest.

For example, in addition to the off the shelf options, Ecophon Solo™ Freedom gives specifiers the opportunity to create custom shapes in a range of colours to reflect the overall look. New baffle concepts such as the Ecophon Solo™ Baffle Wave and Zig Zag solutions create contours and depth within a space.

The importance of good acoustics cannot be underestimated, whether in an office environment where it contributes to employee wellbeing and productivity or a hospitality setting where customer experience is improved. With a far wider range of options now available to designers, creative freedom does need to be limited to achieve it.

Saint-Gobain Ecophon develops, manufactures and markets acoustic products and systems that contribute to a good working environment by enhancing peoples’ wellbeing and performance. For more information about Ecophon Solo™, including the new additions to the range, CLICK HERE

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