Re-Creating the Sound Barrier

06.13.2018

Re-Creating the Sound Barrier

posted on 06/13/2018 By Robert Nieminen

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If there’s one predominant trend that we’ve seen after two days at NeoCon, it’s the fact that acoustics is finally getting the attention it’s deserved. It’s not that designers have ignored it altogether; rather, it seems that in the effort to tear down the physical barriers in the workplace over the past decade, focused work spaces were sacrificed for collaborative ones. And there are challenges to addressing acoustics today, as Maars Living Walls CEO Menno de Vries told us recently. But thankfully, the pendulum is swinging back toward middle-ground.

As we reported in yesterday’s recap, acoustic comfort is one of several macro trends that we’ve noticed as an editorial team. What’s particularly interesting about it is how it connects to the wellness trend that’s taken the design industry by storm as well. As it turns out, the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard addresses the issue of acoustics through six distinct requirements designed to create distraction-free, productive, and comfortable indoor environments, including: Exterior Noise Intrusion; Internally Generated Noise; Reverberation Time; Sound Masking; Sound-Reducing Surfaces; and Sound Barriers. In other words, auditory comfort is as important as any other sensory input when it comes to creating healthy interiors—and the market is recognizing that aesthetics is only half of the picture. (To learn more about the impact of acoustics on interiors, read our Acoustics 101 series.)

In the design of furniture, this is translating into clean, almost minimalist workstations that are integrated with slightly higher, rather than lower privacy panels wrapped in fabric instead of solid surfaces such as opaque glass or acrylic. It’s also manifesting itself in softer lounge seating areas surrounded by various types of movable panels and screens that can be configured for more or less privacy depending upon the need. As furniture solutions achieve greater balance between visual and acoustic privacy, the hope is that furniture does the job that headphones have accomplished in open office spaces that have been too noisy for too long: creating sound barriers where there are none.

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