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Designing for well-being–promoting acoustic and visual comfort

Autex Acoustics, New Zealand

Nov 15, 2023


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As people, we spend a lot of time indoors, so it’s important that the spaces we occupy support our well-being. As part of the building industry, we can positively impact the people in spaces they come together to work, learn, and live in. By designing spaces that flatter our sensory and cognitive needs, we can improve how people experience spaces. 



How can we help?


Design for well-being from the start. Creating a healthy space that supports health and well-being is about choosing the right products that solve the right problems. 


One of those problems is noise. Noise can have a significantly negative impact on occupants, such as increased anxiety and stress, cognitive fatigue, low productivity, and, of course, it causes distractions and interruptions. Another issue is making sure the aesthetics of the space make it comfortable and grounding to be in.


Therefore, we need to consider the acoustic and visual comfort of the space from the beginning of the design process. 



Acoustic comfort


Acoustic comfort is achieved when the environment controls noise that negatively impacts people within the space and facilitates effective communication and speech privacy. 



Speech privacy


Sound needs to be blocked from travelling between adjacent spaces to create speech privacy, meaning speech isn’t carried from one space into another. This might be from one office to another or from meeting room to meeting room. This can be particularly important for projects like the MC Centre, where confidentiality is required. You must address the entire wall system to reduce sound transmission between spaces. This starts by looking at mass, isolation, insulation, and reverberation.



Ambient noise


The ambient noise level (background noise caused by environmental sounds and noises from building services) also contributes to acoustic comfort. Ambient noise is caused by things we can’t control, such as the buildings’ location or plumbing and mechanical systems. But we also have features within our control to limit the ambient noise, including space zoning, internal finishes, and controlling reverberation with acoustic materials.





Controlling noise created by sound reverberation is important in every space, especially in areas for concentration and focus, particularly where it is important to precisely convey information. However, it is also vital to areas used for conferencing and collaboration, for general and focused learning, for formal meetings, and in spaces for social engagement.


This can be achieved with acoustic materials that absorb reflected sound waves. These can be used on the walls, on the ceiling, or even on desk groups


The higher a material’s NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) and the greater the surface area of these noise-reducing surfaces, the shorter the reverberation time will be. For the best results, layer multiple acoustic solutions within the space.


Visual Comfort


To design for visual comfort, we can use principles like biophilic design and colour to create welcoming spaces where people can thrive. 



Biophilic design


Biophilic design principles are widely used in buildings today because of their clear benefits to occupants. Our visual connection with nature has evolved from research1 on visual preference and responses to views of nature showing reduced stress, more positive emotional functioning, and improved concentration and recovery rates. 


Beyond integrating direct experiences with nature, like plants, water features, and natural light, we can also look at how to use products that evoke nature. The surface area of acoustic treatments provides a rich canvas for incorporating biophilic design features representative of nature and culture – through colour, printing or sculpting the material and promoting well-being in spaces.





We must look at nature when choosing suitable colours to create a biophilic space. Naturally inspired colours help us feel better in the areas we occupy. For example, colours like Caspian, Highland, Terrace, and Canyon are designed to reflect the earth’s natural wonders and are subtle interpretations of their original muse. 




A dash of pink enlivens this softly sun-baked terracotta. A colour reminiscent of summer, this friendly orange hue will add a sense of space and light to your room/surroundings. 





Golden undertones imbue this delicate moss green with a subtle warmth. This muted earthy tone mimics a warm neutral and will revitalise a space without overpowering it.





Hovering between grey and blue, this stormy hue can be dramatic or subdued, depending on the environment. An alluring alternative to charcoal, deep green base notes make this complex colour a chameleon capable of transforming a space.





A subtly hued alternative to warm grey, this dusky purple tone combines warmth and lightness to create a colour capable of illuminating a space. Soft grey undertones ensure this shade is a sophisticated version of a traditional mauve.


Images of nature


A more literal take on biophilia, printing images of nature on surfaces can also bring a sense of calm to the space. 





Utilising patterns that occur in nature, like symmetries, spirals, meanders, waves, tessellations, cracks, and stripes, is a subtle way to bring the outdoors in. These can be incorporated easily through products like Frontier™, which was used to create a wave-like ceiling scape at Westmount School.





Many textures we see in nature translate well to the built environment. For example, stone, bark, plants, and sand. These are able to be applied to the surface of acoustic solutions. Acoustic Timber™ can also make spaces comfortable like BIG FAN Studios, where creativity and comfort are a key focus.





We can also sculpt the form of products to emulate our natural environment. We have many customisation options available to create unique acoustic solutions for projects.

Autex Acoustics, New Zealand

Nov 15, 2023


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