Acoustic design for open offices and open spaces

June 3, 2019

A new podcast by Rockfon’s acoustic specialist, Gary Madaras, PhD, and Commercial Architecture magazine addresses decreasing noisy distractions and increasing acoustic comfort and speech privacy in open spaces.

Sonar SLT 2x4 acoustical panels in an open office plan

Perhaps only politics and sports divide opinions more so than the validity of the open office concept. In Commercial Architecture’s May article and podcast, Rockfon’s Gary Madaras, PhD, directly tackles the topic to achieve a comfortable, positive, acoustic experience in open offices and other open spaces.

Read his latest article and listen to the podcast.

What about the people?

Architectural trends generally are continuing to open up building interiors to create larger, simpler, cleaner-looking designs. Beyond appearances, Madaras asks how this trend affects the acoustics and the people within these spaces?

Most of us have first-hand experience with the results: 

  • Higher noise levels elevate people’s stress levels, which affects their health, which results in more absences
  • Numerous distractions lower people’s productivity, which means they make more errors, which increases costs for their employers
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Acoustic success at NRC 0.90+

For optimal acoustics in open offices, Madaras recommends focusing on high-performance sound absorption as the top priority. In his article, he describes how acoustic ceiling systems with a high Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) can help compensate for the frequently missing components of good open office acoustics.

Data and visualization tools help explain sound absorption and the critical role played by ceiling tiles. The research shows that minimum ceiling absorption for achieving acceptable speech privacy is NRC = 0.90.

Madaras also reminds us that an NRC 0.90 ceiling over an open office space is only one of several requirements needed to make the space an acoustic success.

Speech privacy vs. distraction distance

In many cases, achieving speech privacy in open spaces may be impractical. If we want privacy, we may need to move our conversation to private, enclosed spaces. Within open spaces, Madaras suggests “distraction distance” is the more realistic way to approach the goal.

Listen to the podcast to hear four basics for shortening the distraction distance, and decreasing the total number of people that are taken off task and annoyed by each noise.

In conclusion, too many people mean less speech privacy and more distractions. By spacing people out and adding overhead absorption, zone barriers and sound masking, you can create acoustic comfort and acceptably small distraction distances.

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