Acoustics has been a hot topic for some time now, with the move towards flexible open-plan office floor plates and a need for collaborative spaces. It’s a move that has, in itself, catapulted thinking around acoustic performance out of need to accommodate what can seem like opposing aims: the need for collaborative outputs balanced with the need for focus based outputs.

And in that need is a juxtaposition. “There are two key drivers around workplace acoustics,” PLN Group’s Blair McKolskey says. “The first is the necessity of collaboration in floor plates. Born of our increasingly specialised skill base, our colleagues are bringing very deep and often narrow abilities to the workplace but that deep skill comes at a cost to the breadth of skill.  To creatively solve problems we require the related skill of colleagues to achieve a result. 

“So it becomes a case of designing floor plates that allow people to be brought together,” Blair says. “Research undertaken at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found a basis for the 30-metre rule, which essentially argues that the effort required to collaborate with a person who is more than 30 metres away is equivalent to that of someone who is located in another building, or another city.”

So it is vital to engineer proximity in the floorplate of a successful office environment. Serendipitous collaboration is also important to drive success in the workplace in the context of our contemporary workspaces, with the average person changing career trajectory around seven times over their working life. “While that is the case, it is often the situation that without serendipitous collaboration, those around a person will only know them for their current role or expertise, but if a person is able to come across a conversation happening around them, it is often the case that they may be able to provide insight and expertise in a situation unrelated to their current role, but pertinent to past experience – something only possible when proximity allows for this serendipitous connection.”

The conundrum arises when you have an energised floorplate focused on collaboration conflicts with the need for focus spaces where people can work without interruption.

“Research shows that if you can’t understand the audibility of a conversation around you, it may not be disruptive to focus. So it is not about creating silence, or reducing the quantity of sounds, it is about managing the quality of the sound.” Blair says.

“Sound bounces, reflecting off hard surfaces, and over time it will decay. The more hard surfaces are in a space, the longer that sound will take to decay. How you typically deal with that is by using soft, fibrous surfaces.”

Acoustic performance is an area of substantial research for PLN Group, and an area the company has developed extensive learnings in, now presenting their findings around the globe with the aim of improving people’s understanding of what can be achieved.

Many of PLN Group’s products are designed specifically for this purpose: to achieve more successful work spaces within the juxtaposed concepts of collaboration and focus.

One of their latest products, known as the Hush Round Light, was developed based on their research and extensively tested. Hanging the light in a space is equivalent to cutting a 3.1 metre hole in the wall in regards to the amount of noise that is able to leave the space by passing through, and being absorbed by, the light’s fibrous material.

Various other products designed for office spaces have the same acoustic benefits, including the Sharepod, a space designed for collaboration that is part of the innovative Keystone Collection, and Camber, a modular furniture system, both of which are made of specially developed sound-absorbing materials designed to manage the quality, rather than quantity, of sound.

PLN Group is a dedicated design research firm and one of the fastest growing innovation groups in New Zealand. Visit PLN Group on ArchiPro here to learn more about their award-winning designs and solutions created to enhance and innovate.