Credit: Unsplash/Daria Shevtsova
What is noise? How is it different from other types of sound?
The academic and befitting definition of noise is sound that interferes with a communication process. Suitably it is also referred to as ‘interference’, which gives us an idea of how to assess a noisy environment.
Interferences happen in many ways. Examples include disrupting communication between someone and their audience, as well as internal dialogues.
Now, imagine trying to maintain a train of thought while there was unbearable noise. It’s very hard and a terrible drain on your willpower. It also impacts our memories. Our brains are wired to discern and memorise important from unimportant stimuli. This is why you don’t get worried when you hear sirens in the distance, but take things more seriously if you see a fire truck as well.
Naturally, noise and associated interruptions are of great concern for work environments, because communication is paramount for business success. Those affected could be employees, but also customers and partners. Distinctive examples where noise interference is a problem include restaurants, meeting areas and open-plan offices.
Collaboration and team deliberations in companies are essential for coordinated planning and communicating clear company deliverables. Consequently, there is an inevitable movement into spaces such as cafeterias and boardrooms. Wherever there is a meeting of the minds or a need to communicate a message, internal or external noise is a major yet often unacknowledged barrier.
This means that for architects and interior designers, being cognisant of sound and communication in an environment can give them a great edge in designing and presenting spaces fit for purpose.
Communication acoustics can be more nuanced than addressing other noise factors. But the fundamentals are the same: sound can be reflected, absorbed or scattered. To get the optimum communication environment, a space needs good design to take advantage of these factors.
Live and Dead rooms
Credit: Unsplash/Daria Shevtsova
Rooms can be described in two ways for sound: live and dead. Live rooms tend to reflect a lot of sound, usually because there are many hard surfaces and little absorption. As a result, sounds overlap and mix, creating a greater noise. Classrooms are a good example of this. To test for a ‘live’ room, clap your hands in the space. A powerful echo is a sign of too many hard surfaces.
‘Dead’ rooms are the opposite. They have too many absorbing surfaces such as upholstered furniture and soft carpets. While some might think this is good as it removes noise, this still impacts communication. Certain frequencies get lost, making it difficult to follow speech. While a ‘dead’ room is good for environments where you want zero interference, such as a recording booth, it’s actually not suited for most communication environments.
In either scenario, the intelligibility of speech is hampered either by too much interference from other sounds or losing too many sound frequencies.
Tips for communication acoustics
No two rooms are alike. Even spaces next to each other can have different functions. So, to design for sound, the first question is what the purpose of the room will be or how sound is currently interfering with that purpose.
Ideally, sound design should start at the design stage, taking in factors such as external noise. Here interventions such as acoustic glass, double glazing, acoustic doors and acoustic partitions can be installed.
When the area is detailed with accessories such as ceilings and cable ducts, which can be conduits for sound to travel, further changes can be looked at to plug unnecessary holes.
Since a room’s function is bound to change, to achieve good communication acoustics also requires attention on the interior design level. Numerous tailor-made interventions exist, such as acoustic doors, partitions, specialised acoustic glass and absorption panels for commercial and residential.
Acoustic sciences can be applied to test the sound of an environment and place acoustic remedies at the right places. It is a myth that good sound required panels covering all the walls or such drastic actions. A few well-placed panels or dividers can make an immense difference to any space, be it robust team meetings, a tenor serenading theatre audiences or lovers cooing over an intimate meal.
Those sciences can save a lot of time and effort while creating a space that really works for its occupants. It means satisfied customers for architects and interior designers. Too many professionals ignore the impact of noise on communication, even though studies show it is routinely one of our greatest annoyances and demoralisers. Lifestyle creators who embrace the importance of sound will create experiences that their peers aren’t and which their clients will remember.
In this blog we covered the broad strokes of how noise affects communication. In our next blog we will delve into the details of a space, asking ‘Why is my space so noisy?’ – stay tuned to learn more about this fascinating topic!