Quick Case Study: Practical Solutions for a Collaborative Office


In Open Floor Plan Office Design, the Ceiling is the Star

As the North American arm of the high-tech materials business of Germany’s Merck KGaA, EMD Performance Materials (EMD) wanted a physical space that was as impressive and diverse as the product portfolio they manage.

EMD found the raw space they were looking for in a cleverly designed LEED Gold-certified building located in Philadelphia’s Navy Yard. What they needed now was an innovative interior design that would help bring the company’s collaborative spirit to life.

To achieve this, they tapped New Jersey-based architectural firm, HerbstMusciano, LLC and facility planners, HF Planners.

EMD offices philadelphia pa

Strategically placed frameless 4′ x 4′ clouds hang over a grid of narrow reveal panels.

The open floor plan design challenge:

Create a space that matches the company’s high tech, inspirational soul and is conducive to actual work.

“We were looking for a space that was innovative, inspiring and promotes advancing technology,” EMD communications manager Alisha Davis says of the group’s search for its new home. Also on their list: high ceilings and unobstructed views.

All of which pointed to the same popular conclusion, open floor plan.

Office requirements:

  • Spaces equipped for laboratory research
  • Collaboration areas
  • Large meeting rooms
  • Individual work spaces

Open plan offices continue to dominate office design. Employers herald them for improved communication and collaboration and lower construction costs. However, after years in use, they now have their well-documented disadvantages as well, namely, too much noise.

“The primary acoustic concern in open spaces, like the EMD office,” explains CertainTeed Ceiling Technical Services Manager Bob Marshall, “is reverberation time.” Reverberation time (RT) is the time it takes for the sound to die out after the source has stopped.

“In office environments your goal should be to maximize speech intelligibility. To do this you want a RT of less than one second,” says Marshall.

Design challenges:

  • Reverberation Time (RT)
  • Open space
  • Glass partitions
  • Ceiling height

Clouds, baffles and suspended ceilings, and other acoustically absorptive materials like upholstered furniture, carpet and curtains will all shorten RT. However, in the case of the EMD office space all eyes went up.

“The ceilings were the single contributor to acoustic attenuation because we didn’t have many partitions, and the partitions we do have are glass,” Musciano says. “So the ceilings do all the work acoustically.”

EMD offices philadelphia pa

Ecophon solo clouds hang in a reception area at EMD Performance Materials’ Philadelphia headquarters.

The result:

An airy, open floor plan with an abundance of collaborative, free-form spaces.

To accomplish this the design team created a specially designed ceiling in varying sections. Over the main portion of the office, the ceiling consists of a grid of unconventional 1′ x 8′ narrow reveal panels from which tiers of strategically placed frameless 4′ x 4′ clouds hang freely to absorb ambient noise.

Smaller sections of ceilings called for 4′ x 4′ clouds to be suspended from beams at gradually increasing angles. The clouds ascend up the walls into the ceiling. The result is a beautiful wave-like effect that also serves to capture resonant sound vibrations.


“This space reflects an innovative culture which is critical to our business.” Says Theodore Rothermich, Head of Business Operations and Project Lead, EMD, “The ceiling aesthetic is beautiful while functionally contributing to our open, collaborative environment.”

Read the full case study.

Plus, three tips for designing with baffles and the question everyone should ask before undertaking an acoustical design scheme.

Leave A Reply