Acoustic Fundamentals for Open Spaces


Interior design means appealing to multiple senses. While your floor plan might be visually appealing, hard surfaces and wide-open spaces can increase the noise levels as more people enter the room. Private conversations can echo and become public. Visitors and employees can get distracted by various noises.

The sounds that welcome people to a space are just as important as the visuals they encounter. Knowing more about modern acoustic challenges will allow you to more successfully define fashionable solutions for them. 

Design Choices Create Acoustic Challenges

Tavola™ Prime Beams and Baffles offer an eye catching design and elevated acoustics at the Citrus Bowl in Florida. Photographed by © Bob Perzel.

Modern design trends have started to favor wide-open spaces. Buildings are constructed with high ceilings to bring in natural light. Developers are breathing new life into old factories and warehouses by turning them into coworking spaces and unique living areas. Even interior design trends are changing, with stylists using more metals and exposed brick to furnish rooms. 

While these design trends are aesthetically pleasing, they are acoustically challenging. Sounds reverberate off of hard surfaces, but are absorbed by soft surfaces. Sounds can also travel farther in wide areas. As a result, the newest office spaces are loud and distracting. 

How can companies embrace open workspaces without creating loud environments? This is where CertainTeed Architectural comes in. Our line of ceiling and wall solutions can absorb and break up sound waves, creating a quiet environment to assist with occupant comfort. 

Understand the Science Behind Reverberation

Designers who are looking to limit how sound travels within an enclosed area should look at the reverberation time to understand how sounds and conversations can linger. Reverberation time (RT) refers to the amount of time it takes for a sound to die off after its source has stopped. When there are soft surfaces and sound-absorbing materials in a space, the RT decreases significantly and creates a quieter environment. 

One Campus Martius in Detroit, MI is designed with high quality acoustics using Tavola Prime Beams and Baffles. Photographed by © Jason Keen. 

The correct RT within a space is dependent on the need. In an office or classroom where you don’t want sound to travel, an appropriate RT is around one second. However, in areas where you want sound to travel (like a lecture hall, social space, or restaurant) an ideal RT would fall between 1.4 to 2 seconds. 

Experienced interior designers will take the RT into consideration when creating their floorplans. A restauranteur might have a higher RT because of the social setting, but not so high that diners feel overwhelmed by the noises around them. 

Clouds, Baffles, and Suspended Ceilings Affect Reverberation

Just because an existing space has a high RT doesn’t mean designers have to forgo common design trends to lower it. Many office spaces and professional environments embrace open floor plans, but install ceiling features that absorb sound. 

Tavola Levels were installed at the ASTM International building in West Conshohocken, PA offering a modern and unique design while improving acoustics. Photographed by © Jeffrey Totaro.

CertainTeed Architectural offers multiple products that absorb and break up sound. These range from free-hanging clouds made of soft surfaces to ceiling baffles that break up sound waves. The effectiveness of these products depends on the amount of coverage used. Buildings with a significant number of tiles will experience a lower RT and quieter environment. 

Each product was created with popular design trends in mind. Some of the items, like the free-hanging clouds, can make your space look like it has a professional art installation. Your employees and visitors won’t immediately associate the hanging pieces with sounds absorbers and they can still enjoy the high ceilings and open windows of your workspace. 

When global engineering powerhouse Aecom moved into new offices in Pretoria, South Africa, it chose Ecophon® ceiling products for to meet aesthetic and acoustic needs. Photographed by © Thys Dullaart.

Control Your Acoustics Through Reverberation Management

Hayward Field at the University of Oregon in Eugene, OR has a High Profile Series™ Horizontally Curved Baffle ceiling system that provides modern curves and arcs creating a unique architectural design. Photographed by © Mitchell Stier.

If you are designing for an open space that creates unwanted echoes and pushes sound around, learn about your RT control options. Ignore the traditional suspended ceilings and look for creative ways to absorb sound without compromising your design style.  CertainTeed Architectural (PDF) offers multiple solutions that come in a variety of colors, shapes, and installation requirements. 

Take control of your reverberation and create a welcoming space where sound only travels as far as you want it to go.

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