The Importance of Aural Architecture to Our Wellbeing
We live in a particularly visual society; for many of us, whether it be viewing art or taking in impressive scenery, we can take a lot of solace in admiring pleasing aesthetics. But this is just one element in a larger experiential pool. Whilst we know how much beautiful design can positively impact our wellbeing, something that is less talked about is the importance of sound in how we experience a building, otherwise known as aural architecture.
When asked to think of the sounds of an office, it is not necessarily an entirely peaceful picture. The clattering of coffee machines, the bustle of water-cooler conversations, or the electronic tones of yet another printer jam can all come together to create a distracting and overwhelming cacophony. Not only is this frustrating, but it can directly impact employees’ productivity, wellbeing, and mental health. Good office design will consider the sonic implications of the day-to-day office right off the jump. It will create a space that minimises noise annoyance, increases your team’s productivity, and boosts wellness by harnessing the power of good acoustics.
Why is aural architecture important?
Aural Architecture identifies the auditory needs of a space, depending on who it is that will occupy it. Every room has its own soundscape; it is incredibly rare to find a static space that produces no sound. Humans are skilled in subconsciously filtering out the hum of background noise, such as air conditioning units, but can become disturbed when noises rip through the background.
It improves stress levels
Research shows that anything above 50 decibels can cause an increase in stress levels, and anything over 55 decibels makes it impossible for humans to concentrate. Although open-plan offices have become a popular design choice among many, it means that barriers that protect sounds from traveling are removed, leaving its inhabitants much more susceptible to noise. This doesn’t necessarily mean that office space needs to be segregated. Still, disruptive noises, like those in communal areas, should be minimised using tools such as absorbent materials and partitions when designing an office interior.
It provides options
Equally, it’s essential to provide options to a workforce. For example, while some may thrive on the buzz of a communal workspace and find that having an ambient backdrop is useful when working, others may find that they need complete silence to be their most productive. Including alternatives in the design and build of a workspace will help to keep teams happy and efficient.
It boosts productivity
According to a new study by Oscar Acoustics, which polled over 2000 UK office workers, over 60% of workers found themselves unable to concentrate due to their working environment being too loud, which then caused them to deliver lower-quality work. In addition, noisy working environments can lead to tension amongst colleagues and, in some extreme cases, physical altercations, with an astonishing one in five of those under 30 have used physical violence because of a disturbance. While this eventuality is unlikely, it shows just how important a healthy and balanced aural environment is in workplace design and building. By implementing the principles of aural architecture in the foundations of a design, you can optimise your team’s productivity and the success of your business.
5 Ways to Improve the Aural Architecture of your Workspace
Our Design Director, Lisa McLeod works closely with all AW Spaces clients on their requirements, including when it comes to the sound design of a space. Whether you’re looking to build a brand new office with completely silent spaces or improve your existing workspace, here are five ways to strengthen its aural architecture.
Avoid ‘Acoustic-Washing’ Products
“So, people claim that they've got an acoustic product, which actually doesn't do anything. Like felt panels, they're a lovely product visually made of recycled bottles and plastics. It does a tiny bit to help, but not a huge amount. And most people will just fix it straight to the wall when you need space behind, similar to how double-glazed windows work.” Lisa continues, “Another product to be cautious of is ‘acoustic fabric’. Acoustic fabric is anything you can blow through, so many businesses will add a price tag onto it and say it’s acoustic when it actually doesn’t do much.”
Understand what your needs are
When approaching aural architecture, it’s crucial to consider your space’s requirements. Lisa explains, “Certain clients of ours will mention sound from the very beginning. Mostly those involved in the legal industries or HR, where they’ll be having conversations that need to be entirely confidential, will worry the most about acoustics. Then you really have to dig down with the client. Okay, what does it mean to you? Your boss's view of a good acoustic room will be completely different from yours. What's acceptable to you? At AW Spaces, we make it clear to the client what can be achieved balanced with what's acceptable to them.”
Utilise soft furnishings
One relatively easy way of improving the acoustics of an area is by bringing in high-density, soft furnishings that absorb the sound around it. “Any kind of absorbent banquet seating is great.” Lisa says, “High backs are excellent. We installed banquet seating for one of our clients, where it's open at the front and on the back wall, and you cannot hear anything outside of it unless someone shouts or you're sitting incredibly close to it. So you get decent acoustic thickness with those types of furnishings.”
Be aware of where sound leaks from
“You can have the best room in the world, and then you pierce it with an air conditioning unit; it’s broken. Or if you have doors with no seals, sound just travels completely over it.” Once these pain points have been identified, you can bring in systems that counterbalance the acoustics: “You can use acoustic baffles above the wall or cross-talk actuators installed inside a pipe to almost muffle the sound. It redirects your sound through a route so the air still trebles, but the sound hits different points inside the pipe. We often use acoustic glass, which is single-glazed and is laminated with micro-perforation, so the sound gets absorbed into that.”
Start with Sound Masking
If you need a fast solution to a room with bad aural architecture, then Sound Masking is a great place to start. Lisa notes, “If you can't do all those things, or if you haven't got a lot of money to achieve all these things that I just spoke about, then you need to do other things like Sound Masking to take away some of the noise from outside.” She explains, “Sound Masking is where say, if you have a noisy air conditioning unit or something, you create a background mimicking noise using certain frequencies. It's a speaker system you'd install in a room that goes on with the problem noise and tunes it out of the room.”