Sep 20, 2017 Last Updated 11:00 PM, Sep 10, 2017

The sound of silence

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Architectural journalist Gideon Sykes examines three contemporary solutions for improving the acoustic performance of interiors in public buildings.

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The sound of silence is increasingly important to both specifier and user. The absorption of noise is as vital in rooms with hard surfaces, such as sports halls and swimming pools, as it is in school classrooms and public places. Noise reduction is equally important in working and retail environments. There is also the growing problem of increased noise abuse in housing.

This is nothing new. It has been known for decades that noise has a detrimental effect on people, their focus and their attention. For example, Bronzaft and McCarthy (1975) conducted a study, which indicated that New York City students were hampered in their reading skills by elevated noise levels. Students 70m from an elevated subway track lagged behind their peers, on the quieter side of the building, between three months and as much as one year.

In 1986, Cohens, Evans, Krantz and Stokols found that some children from noisy schools had higher blood pressure, less cognitive task success and greater feelings of helplessness. The students gave up and were more easily distracted from the task at hand. (Source: University of Georgia: Environmental Influence on Student Behaviour and Achievement).

Fortunately, there are many systems and products available to help reduce noise and its effect. Many manufacturers offer modern methods of construction and innovative design to provide aesthetic, practical and high performance solutions.

Italian manufacturer PL, part of the Abet Laminati Group, has developed Silentwall. This is a range of interior cladding comprising vertical and horizontal panels of high pressure laminate on an aluminium fixing system. This innovative panelling is designed to absorb noises in rooms of high frequency or where there is a high level of background disturbance, such as in auditoriums and large meeting rooms, where sound reduction is vital.

The system is available in hundreds of colours, textures and patterns with foldaway joints. These allow the cladding material to display a completely unbroken surface or with visible anodised aluminium joints for aesthetic appeal.

Natural acoustic solutions

Another company making huge strides in the UK with cost-effective acoustics in Danish manufacturer Troldtekt, which offers natural acoustic tiles and panels. As the panels are made from 100% natural wood fibres mixed with cement, their sustainability was recently recognised with certification at Silver level within the Cradle to Cradle concept. Their benefits include high sound absorption, high durability, natural breathability and cost life cycle performance.

The acoustic panels are widely used in many different types of project. They are particularly popular in schools, including Passivhaus design. For example, Troldtekt ceiling tiles were recently specified by Architype architects for two Passivhaus schools in Wolverhampton where they make a major contribution to comfort and learning.

Architype Director Jonathan Hines commented: “Oakmeadow is one of two schools we have designed using Passivhaus principles to offer radically low energy consumption together with optimised comfort for children and staff. We are convinced that designing to an energy target is the most logical and effective route to achieving carbon reductions. Troldtekt acoustic ceilings are one of the solutions which have helped to meet our design and performance objectives – in this case optimising the acoustic environment using a natural and beautiful product.”

The tiles not only offer high performance sound absorption in the study areas, which need to be quiet, calm and healthy, but also in the sports hall and play areas, which are traditionally very noisy.

Combating echoes

Noise in sports, swimming-pool and leisure centres can often result in unpleasant echoes because it is reflected off hard surfaces and the water and exaggerated by the natural exuberance of the participants.

In the new Eura sports complex in Western Finland, architects Heino & Niirainen have solved this problem and created pleasant acoustics by the extensive use of Troldtekt ultrafine panels on the ceilings and the walls.

The most dramatic is in the large swimming pool which not only has acoustic panels between the ceiling ribs but links a multi-coloured wall of Troldekt panels on one side with a floor to ceiling glazed view on the other. The coloured acoustic panel theme is continued in the entrance hall, which is dramatically coloured in red and in the dining area where blue dominates. In addition, the bowling alley has Troldtekt acoustic panel ceilings and more highly coloured acoustic walls. In some places the ceilings also house strip lighting, which is recessed to create an unbroken ceiling surface.

Sor Amfi in Norway is one of the best examples in Europe of a local authority sports centre. Designed by Asplan Viak architects for the Arendal Municipality, it is part of the Arendal sports park and located next to the Sam Eyde high school, which also uses the facilities. It comprises a multi-purpose sports hall, for up to 3000 spectators, with separate gymnastics and tennis halls and many other facilities. This 13,200m2 building is also one of the largest projects where Troldtekt acoustic panels have been specified to help create a high performance and comfortable environment. Attention to acoustics is very important in sports buildings, which can easily suffer from the exaggerated echoes reflected off the hard wall and floor surfaces or off the water in swimming pools.

Robust properties

Architect Vidar Myrnes from Asplan Viak says: “5350m2 of Troldtekt was chosen mainly because of its good acoustic performance and the design. We were looking for a product of high robustness against rough use and high humidity (in the changing area) and we wanted a ceiling that suited the massive space in the T-shaped middle building. We selected the coarse grey variant for the public open spaces and a fine white variant for the smaller closed areas.”

This project is also interesting because the A2 panel has been used in the areas with stricter fire regulations, such as hallways and other means of escape. The advantage is that it looks exactly the same as the normal panel, which means that the two types could be installed without compromising the aesthetics or the acoustics.

Yet another company offering a creative and innovative second fix solution for good acoustics is Soundtect, with their Collection of attractive and tactile three-dimensional textile acoustic panels. Available in eleven different designs, these are manufactured from 100% recycled materials, such as carpet, and are themselves 100% recyclable. The panels range in size between 450 and 600mm and combine form, function, design and acoustic performance to create a fun and lively new backdrop.

With proven certification to reduce sound reverberation and a noise reduction coefficient of up to 0.95, they have already proved popular in areas where noise pollution is of concern, from office meeting rooms through to restaurants, school halls and shops. The class 1 fire-rated lightweight panels can be quickly and easily installed on walls and ceilings with the minimum of disruption and with the immediate and dramatic result of improving sound quality, while reducing the background noise.

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