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Sound in office

While discussing the concept of architecture, we usually focus on shapes and colours, which is what we actually see, but Juhani Pallasmaa, a Finnish architect, in his book called “The Eyes of the Skin” says:“Every touching experience of architecture is multi-sensory”. Nowadays, more and more designers start noticing how vital it is to design for all the senses . The knowledge of acoustics of buildings and the impact of sound on our perception of space is developing dynamically. That knowledge enables us to design places  which are healthier and more friendly to live and work.

How sound affects us?

Every place has its own characteristic sound. Close your eyes and listen for a moment. What can you hear? Can the sound you hear help you to imagine the size of that place, for example? Sound, just like smell, can shape the character of a building. We usually do not realise to what extent sound can influence our wellbeing, because it often is subconscious. In fact, sound can change our brainwaves, emotions or heart rate. That is why, interior designers should take into consideration acoustics, especially in case of workplace. Research shows that noise can decrease work efficiency by nearly two-thirds. Noise increases the risk of heart disease and weakens the immune system.

How to improve acoustics in open-plan office?

Open-plan office has been a dominating trend in designing contemporary office interiors. However, it has its shortcomings. One of them concerns acoustics. The fact that several people talk at the same time can cause that everybody on the team is fatigued and distracted. People become easily irritable and they fall sick more often. Noise increases the risk of heart disease and can adversely affect our productivity and hinder our relations with others. Since workspace as such must often remain unchanged, we can introduce some ideas that will solve acoustic issues and protect our employees against the harmful effects of noise.

Sound absorbing materials

Hard surfaces do not absorb sound. Stone, glass or metal exhibit much worse acoustic properties as compared to wood and wood-imitation materials. One simple way to combat acoustic issues is to make use of soft materials such as  floor covering, carpeting and fabric wall panels, which have been very fashionable lately. They often come in 3D formats and thanks to that, they look like modern works of art and they absorb sound much better. Sound can also be absorbed by drapes or curtains and all soft pieces of furniture like sofas, armchairs, poufs, and cushions. At the same time, they create a warm and homely atmosphere. Mobile noise screens, fabric acoustic panels on doors and acoustic shutters for office cabinets prove to be excellent sound absorbers, too. Employees sitting opposite each other should have desktop dividing screens separating them to reduce noise and offer them more privacy as well. Mobile acoustic divides  are an ideal solution since they allow us to adjust the workspace according to our own needs. It is recommended to use acoustic ceiling panels, which are available in many interesting shapes  now and can make the office interior look more interesting. There are also green walls (vertical gardens) that can perform the role of sound barriers.  (link do artykułu o zieleni).

Quiet rooms and phone booths

Phone booths are a perfect solution for open-plan offices as you can freely talk there without disturbing others or you can even rest a while there. Tall furniture can function in a similar way. We are able to create space for ad hoc meetings, thanks to such pieces like ( jest taka ławka w systemie PLUS podać nazwę lub podlinkować) or armchairs with their scaled back forming an acoustic niche ( balloon chairs). In some offices the so-called quiet rooms have been created, where you can either think conceptually or take a nap.

How to improve conference room acoustics?

In a conference room one of the most disturbing phenomena is echo. Once we hear the reverberation, we automatically speak up and change our intonation. With long talks it can have a negative effect on us – it can increase our fatigue and level of irritation. Since a conference room is a place where vital decisions are made and negotiations take place, its design should meet all requirements and create ideal conditions in order to eliminate any difficulties. Fine floor covering, fabric panels, drapes and curtains, soft pieces  of furniture or acoustic ceiling panels should resolve the noise problem.

Acoustic curtains and ”white noise”

Some companies use sound to mask speech noise. Research shows that the words we cannot hear clearly do not make us tired. By adding continuous low level electronic sounds, called “white noise”, to everyday noise, we enable our employees to ignore conversations of others. Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the USA claim that “sound curtains”, which  imitate nature sounds, are more effective. The sound of crashing waves or singing birds is relaxing and calming. We can find white noise e.g. on Spotify, we can also use applications like Thunderspace or Coffitivity, which imitates coffee shop noise.

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Oczy skóry (The Eyes of the Skin), Juhani Pallasmaa, Instytut Architektury, Kraków 2012