A Sound Affect on Human Centered Design

I was once told good (and bad) acoustics is something you experience; something you can feel, even if you don’t know what it is. I am always impressed at how real this experience can be.

Research shows that people work more productively, communicate and learn more effectively, and heal more efficiently in environments with good acoustics.

Recently, Jill Robles, the Ecophon Architectural Sales Manager in New England, and I had the pleasure of working with the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) in Boston, Massachusetts.  The IHCD is an international non-governmental educational organization committed to advancing the role of design in expanding opportunity and enhancing experience for people of all ages and abilities through excellence in design.

A large lobby area outside of a conference room is utilized frequently for meetings.  It is a great space for informal gatherings after presentations but the acoustical condition made it uncomfortable and difficult to hear. Conversations can be a challenge without proper sound dampening because of heavy reverberation and increased sound pressure levels.

Prior to our “acoustical intervention”, members of the IHCD team were skeptical that the acoustical challenge could not be overcome, and that any acoustical solution might resemble that of an “ugly burlap sack”

Our solution? Shaped, free-hanging, acoustical sound-absorbers hung from the existing gypsum ceiling at varying levels to enhance the contemporary and spirited design in an area that has many acoustically reverberant surfaces. We took simple before and after decibel (db) readings, and the sound pressure levels decreased by 13 db when people were talking softly. It may not sound like a lot, but a 2-3 db reduction is like having two car engines running side by side and turning one of them off!

Though acoustics was the primary reason for the treatment, these noise absorbing systems were far from the feared “burlap sack”. Members of the IHCD staff commented on how they served as artwork. The shapes and levels complimented the suspended lighting, and even allowed some flexibility in how light was dispersed.

But the true test was during a presentation weeks later, co-hosted by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), Ecophon, and CertainTeed. Attended by more than 60 guests from the Architectural, Design, Acoustical Engineering, and Interior Design Communities, the presentation by European speakers discussed how acoustics impact people based on research from around the world.

After the presentation, the guests mingled, chatted and relaxed. The most interesting part is that everyone congregated in the area that received the acoustical treatment, while the other areas in the facility were empty. To me, this demonstrates a good acoustical experience… nobody knows why they feel more comfortable in a space, but they naturally communicate better in it.