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Designed for Comfort: The Power of Situational Acoustic Design


Designed for Comfort: The Power of Situational Acoustic Design

We’ve all been there: that crowded restaurant where you can’t even hear yourself think, let alone carry on a decent conversation with your dinner companion; that packed lecture hall where you can only decipher fragments of the professor’s lesson; that hospital overwhelming with the echoing of human voices, footsteps, and machines. 


Nearly every day, we encounter situations in which the soundscape of the environment simply does not align with the purpose of the space. We enter spaces designed for work only to be swallowed up in a distracting cacophony of noise, from the competing and clashing sounds of human conversation to the drone of equipment. We visit performance halls and museum spaces expecting to enjoy an uplifting aesthetic experience, only to be distracted by unwelcome noise and poor acoustics. 


It doesn’t have to be this way. To be sure, the design of a space may be carefully engineered to optimize both the utility of the space and the occupants’ experience of that space. However, this careful engineering isn’t limited only to the aesthetics and the physical functionality of the environment. The most effective environmental design plans also prioritize the soundscape of the space. Enter situational acoustic design, the strategic development of built spaces that are acoustically optimized for the unique purposes for which the space is intended. It is a concept that provides acoustic solutions by addressing areas of the loudest noise while saving time, preventing wasted material, and maximizing the budget.


So, what does situational acoustic design encompass, when and how can it be used, and what are the best strategies for approaching it? In this two-part series, we answer these questions and more by exploring the tremendous power of situational acoustic design.



The What, Why, and How of Situational Acoustic Design


Situational acoustic design addresses locations where the loudest noise occurs, in contrast to traditional approaches, which spread acoustical materials throughout spaces. Situational acoustic design allows people to feel more comfortable while interacting within a space by aligning the soundscape with the intended purpose of the space, whether a restaurant, classroom, performance hall, art gallery, office, medical facility, or any other space with noise concerns. It’s also more than that because situational acoustic design accommodates additional factors, from the size of the space to the timeline and budget allotted for the project.


Indeed, budgetary considerations are often a primary concern, and because situational acoustic design maximizes the utility of materials while minimizing waste, that makes it ideal for those working with a small budget and tight timeline. At the heart of situational acoustic design is a strategic awareness of how to best select and configure acoustic solutions to optimize the functionality of the space and to maximize occupants’ experience of and engagement with the space. 


As Doug Bixel, Founder and CEO of FSorb, explains, “Early in my career, I would come up against situations where there was a noise issue, and the customer simply lacked the budget or the space to install acoustical materials as recommended by conventional modeling.  While working with a vast amount of different acoustical materials, I began to see patterns developing.  That led me to explore how acoustics worked and why some approaches were more powerful than others…  With minimal budgets, I was always looking for creative, low-cost product solutions.


I have always loved the question of whether a tree falling down in a forest with no one around makes a sound? So why put acoustical materials where they do not have impact? I began focusing on the human element. Where are the people and what do they need to feel more comfortable while interacting within the space?”


On a pragmatic level, this means choosing the best acoustic materials and placing them in the locations and configurations that will have the greatest impact, contributing to the ideal sound environment for that particular space. This can be accomplished in a wide variety of ways, depending on the particular need, which may include configuring panels and tiles in useful ways while absorbing (and therefore quieting) unwanted noises as close to the source of the noise as possible. In essence, situational acoustic design enables architects, engineers, and contractors to create the optimal sound environment for the utility, functionality, and experience of users while maximizing both time and cost efficiency. 



Applying Situational Acoustic Design Principles


As situational acoustic design involves the strategic management of sound at the source of the sound, the practices are based on our increasing understanding of the complex science of sound and how sound waves behave in particular environments. This behavior is determined by certain variables that can be controlled and by a range of variables that cannot be controlled.


More specifically, the transmission of sound waves can be affected by factors such as the size and shape of the space, the quantity and type of objects in the space, from the number of occupants to the variety of furnishings there, and the materials from which walls, ceilings, floors, and furnishings are made. 


As we’ve seen, acoustic design is not about blocking sound waves or preventing “spillover.” It’s about managing the behavior of sound waves at the source. This is a critical distinction because controlling the sound environment at the source will determine the quality of the soundscape in that space. This, by extension, will inform the overall functionality of the space.


Let’s briefly consider how the functionality of a restaurant or a hospital would be improved were situational acoustic design principles deployed there. In each case, we find a myriad of sound sources in the space that contribute to noise pollution. From multiple conversations occurring simultaneously to the incessant noise of technology and mechanical equipment, these spaces are replete with noise sources of various types. 


And that means that acoustic designers must prioritize sound wave absorption if they are to optimize the soundscape for the spaces’ intended purposes. This is likely to involve the use of acoustic clouds, baffles, and panels to create zones of quiet throughout the space. 


For example, the noise created at nurses' stations or in waiting rooms and the disquieting echoes of footsteps and medical equipment may be mitigated by strategically placed sound-absorbing vertical panels or dropped ceiling tiles. In a restaurant, the cacophony of human voices and clinking silverware can be held to an enjoyable level while the space remains lively by carefully placing acoustic solutions to prevent sound spillover between tables. At the same time, such solutions lead to a more comfortable and productive work environment for restaurant staff.  



How FSorb Can Help


FSorb’s decades of experience in finding creative solutions to address noise while working with budgetary and space constraints drove its history of innovation and led to the concept of situational acoustic design. Our acoustic solutions are appearing in workspaces, schools, healthcare systems, and public spaces across the globe. Our vast inventory of customizable acoustic solutions means that we always have the ideal products to meet your unique design needs. We are proud to have served some of the most prestigious organizations in the world, including Amazon, Microsoft, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Contact your local FSorb representative today to discuss how FSorb can assist you in your next situational acoustic design project.


 

FSorb

At FSorb, we are motivated by improving human health and do so by creating eco-friendly acoustic products. Our mission is to help designers build beautiful spaces that reduce excess ambient noise while calming the human nervous system. With over 25 years in the acoustic business we stand behind FSorb as a durable, environmentally friendly, and low-cost product. If you want an acoustic solution that is safe to human health at an affordable price, then we are your resource.


(844) 313-7672

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