Interior designers understand this. “The number one surface to treat for
noise control is the ceiling, because a lot of the sound you get is reverb—it hits
the ceiling then bounces back down,” says Janet Kobylka, EDAC, LEED AP,
principal of Health Design Source, a Dallas-based interior design consultancy.
She says interior designers should be thinking about “the ABCs” when dealing with noise: absorb, block, and cover.
Many in the field of building acoustics say that designers understand the
problems noise can cause, but argue that not enough attention is being paid
to the sometimes subtle ways that noisy environments can affect the people who use them.
“The science is certainly there,” says Sean D. Browne, principal scientist at
Armstrong World Industries, an acoustical surfaces manufacturer. He points
to organizations like the Center for the Built Environment at the University
of California Berkeley and the Acoustical Society of America that gather and
disseminate the sort of scientific findings that help acousticians and designers reduce reverb or improve the absorption of sound through new materials.
Building certification programs, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s
LEED system and the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL standard, have also taken noise into consideration, outlining requirements for
sound-absorbing materials and maximum reverberation times.
These approaches are particularly germane to the design of healthcare
facilities, according to Anat Grant, LEED AP BD+C, director of acoustics at
CSDA Design Group. “The underlying objective is usually to provide a less
stressful, more relaxed acoustical environment and to promote patient privacy,” she says. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability
Act (HIPAA), privacy guidelines require that certain spaces within healthcare
settings have specific levels of noise control. The design of these spaces—from
nurses’ stations to pharmacies—requires increased attention to noise issues.
Offices are another major area in need of acoustical control. With the rise
of open plan offices and an increasing amount of noise-producing technology
in typical office spaces, office noise can be both annoying and distracting. A
1998 study in the British Journal of Psychology found that simply being able
to overhear other conversations in an office setting could reduce worker productivity by 66 percent.
Browne says offices present huge acoustical challenges that are often left
unaddressed. “The understanding is there, but I think in the office environment, it hasn’t translated to the people making the purchasing decisions that
it’s necessary,” he explains.
Designers should be more proactive in making the argument for improving a space’s acoustics, adds Kobylka. “A critical piece of any design solution,
for almost any kind of commercial building—for education, for healthcare, for
the workplace, even for hospitality—is to do an acoustic analysis of the design.”
Improved modeling technologies are available to give designers and builders
more information about what their projects can or could sound like. “Before you
even start building it, ideally you need to have an acoustician review it,” she says.
Designing to reduce noise doesn’t have to mean a bunch of ugly sound-
blocking equipment. Unlike the banal drop ceilings of the past, new acoustical
materials are being developed that seamlessly blend in with other interior
elements. “Any visual look that’s desired, there’s almost always a way to
incorporate an acoustical material,” says Grant. “Sometimes it comes with a
cost, but if a designer says I want a wood finish, then we can do these wood
microperforated panels. You really can’t see the perforations until you’re
way up close to them.”
She also points to new fabrics and cloud-like acoustical panels that suspend
from ceilings to provide visual and architectural appeal. Acoustic materials
like these are broadening the options for interior designers, making it easier
to reduce the harmful impacts of noise without sacrificing aesthetics.
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