Updated: Feb 23, 2020
Noise is probably the most frequently forgotten of the environmental pollutants, yet its effects can be many and far-reaching. Noise harms us in more ways than we can think of and to top it, without us even knowing about it. Though lack of awareness is the major cause, this can largely be attributed to the human nature which is very adaptable to its surroundings.
We cannot have a noise free world, just as we cannot have a fire free or an earthquake free world. But we sure can have a noise safe world. Though the sources of noise pollution vary. In some places noise from construction projects predominates, while in others it is vehicular traffic or noise from airports. Other sources include the noise in occupational settings or even the noise of simultaneous conversations. In our country unleashed loudspeakers disturb the neighbourhood on seemingly endless nights, where the laws are either battered in the name of religion or just for fun.
Talking of the business world, the expectations of the employers & employees are soar high for increased productivity, with the expansion of businesses globally. The major inhibitor on the way of this aspiration is the office noise, but the severity of this potential problem is overlooked.
The irony: In a recent study completed for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) by Yankelovich Partners, 70 percent of office workers polled agreed that productivity would increase if office noise would decrease. But a subsequent study (conducted for ASID by L.C. Williams and Associates) proved that business executives do not acknowledge the problem: 81 percent of those who polled reported they were not concerned with office noise.
Through this obvious discrepancy, it is apparent that companies must increase their attentiveness of the acoustic environments of open-office spaces, if paramount business success is to be achieved. Beyond productivity, office acoustics also affects employee health and safety. Many studies acknowledge that noise (even at low levels) is a known cause of stress. Stress causes health problems such as digestive disorders, headaches, hypertension, and ulcers. Unhealthy employees not only would be a cause of concern but also their health directly proportional to their productivity and hence the performance. One of the most important aspects of an open office, as far as productivity is concerned, is the ability to conduct work without distraction.
In this chain with many weak links Architects and Interior designers have a big and profound responsibility to design functional and sound safe environments. It is very difficult, if not impossible to meet these goals without considering acoustics. Acoustics is essential to the functioning of almost every type of environment, from open offices to hospitals, schools, worship centers, etc. Some environments can even become dangerously loud and unsafe for the occupants. In order to effectively address these issues, acoustics should be considered in the design phase itself. If your space does not meet the needs of the end user or is found to be unsafe, you could be held liable, and worst yet, you could be putting people in danger.
Very often, noise does not produce visible results. That is why probably, people believe that noise does not cause health hazards. But as per different studies, noise creates lot of health hazards and especially, the children are the most affected. As per reports exposure to extreme noise levels can cause hearing loss even in newborns.
Virtually every space demands acoustic attention in order to function for its specified purpose. Architects and Interior designers have a notion that acoustically treated spaces are not aesthetically appealing. They may be right since if we can call them ‘deaf’ the general acoustic consultants can be called blind. But due to the perseverance of certain individuals and their constant innovative study and experience, today’s acoustics have both ‘beauty and brains’. Now the acoustics is no more limited only to the dark cinema halls or big auditoriums, it has become a part of Homes, offices, hospitals, educational institutes and also retail spaces.
Allowing the end-users to experience true acoustic comfort in the spaces designed will be anytime appreciated, even though they might not consciously notice the difference. Noise can cause irritation, annoyance, anxiety, anti-social behavior, hostility and violence. Let’s not forget it.
When some one is designing an open office, he should always consider the acoustic impact of the materials being used, think about where are the people being placed, how are the job types being grouped, sound masking, the type of telephones being used, panel heights and ceiling systems.
There are plenty of solutions available to combat potential acoustic problems in open-office spaces in order to facilitate employee productivity. In the past, there has been a stigma associated with acoustic products. Some professionals think they're utilitarian and that they limit your design options, but trust this; nothing could be further from the truth.
Today with the endless options in acoustic themes and with the widened horizon of designers who now combine architecture with acoustic designing, an acoustically perfect, well furnished office could be designed which will take care of noise & will also give the visual delight of perfect interior designing.
The Author, Dr. Himanshu Kumar is the Mentor of MTI. INDIA & UAE.