Designed to please the eye as well as the ears

Architects are under increasing pressure to ensure the comfort of building occupants – particularly regarding acoustics. Will Jones of Ecophon discusses how acoustic solutions can be included within the design of the building without sacrificing the aesthetic

From sales of activity trackers to the growing interest in mindfulness and other stress-relieving activities, it is clear that health and wellbeing is becoming firmly embedded within the public consciousness. It is of little surprise then that the wellbeing discussion has taken root within the construction industry too, with occupant comfort being increasingly prioritised by specifiers in all sectors.

Established in 2014, the WELL Building Standard is gaining ground as a certification for architects looking to design spaces that support and advance human health and wellness. Developed by integrating scientific and medical research on environmental health, with leading practices in building design, construction and management, the standard places a welcome emphasis on acoustic design – recognising that poor noise control can seriously hamper the wellbeing, and performance of, a building’s occupants.

We are all familiar with the frustration that nuisance noise can cause, but the potentially harmful effects it can have on our health are perhaps less well known.

In addition to the general annoyance, nuisance noise can also have far more serious consequences, potentially including hearing impairments, cardiovascular issues through stress, cognitive impairment and unwelcome metabolic effects, as well as resulting in decreased mental performance and lower productivity.

Specifying effective acoustic solutions at the design stage is clearly crucial to delivering a fit-for-purpose building that supports the long-term health of its occupants – yet traditionally, the aesthetic options for achieving this were often thought of as uninspiring. Fortunately, there are now a number of high-quality sound absorbing solutions that can also create a dramatic statement, or even become an integral part of the interior design.

For example, when a full ceiling is not desired for design or structural reasons, free hanging sound absorbing panels – known as acoustic clouds – provide a versatile solution that can achieve both the required acoustic performance and desired aesthetic. The panels are available in a range of shapes and sizes including rectangles as large as 3000 x 1200 mm. These sizes are an ideal solution for very large areas or can be utilised to make a statement in a smaller space.

Acoustic cloud panels are also available in a range of colours to either match the interior design or create an eye-catching feature using a contrasting colour. The choice of the colour of the acoustic panels provides a new way to introduce tones into the space, these could either be in bold blocks of colour or used more subtly to create contrast.

In addition to the standard options, leading manufacturers are also able to create custom shapes. This allows geometric design concepts or elements of a corporate brand to be extended and reflected in the acoustic panels. Alternatively, the bespoke shapes can be used creatively to achieve a particular look, allowing a design to be created that specifically suits the purpose of the space or building.

The versatile installation of the free hanging systems also allows creative freedom. The panels can be installed in the position required, regardless of ceiling height, or fitted close to the soffit if needed. Furthermore, the panels can be suspended in multiple levels to provide a functional and visually striking solution to sound control, for example in a high-ceilinged atrium.

In addition to horizontal panels, vertically installed unframed baffles allow specifiers to create an interesting vertical visual feature within a space; these can be hung from the ceiling or mounted on a wall. The baffles can be installed in different alignments to create striking straight lines, dynamic patterns or even grid shapes. Baffles can be combined with free hanging acoustic products, or other ceiling designs to create a truly unique appearance.

Furthermore, specially shaped baffles, designed to be installed as a system can be used to create contours and depth. For example, Ecophon Solo Baffle Wave allows designers to give the ceiling the look of a gently rolling sea – either across an entire room or in a specific area.

With such a wide variety of options now available, from full ceilings to acoustic clouds and baffles, there is no longer any need to sacrifice aesthetics for the sake of acoustic performance – indeed, the most discerning clients now expect architects to be able to deliver on both fronts. Given the complexities of achieving high quality, design-led acoustics, however, it is always worth enlisting the help of a specialist manufacturer early on in the specification process. They will be able to provide practical advice on achieving the perfect balance of form and function.

Will Jones is marketing manager at Ecophon