The value of a commercial space is determined by how well it serves the people and enterprises who occupy it. Measuring a space’s fitness (and therefore its ultimate value) is a constant challenge to find hidden problems. A property’s location is one factor that’s obvious when adding up a property’s value, but when it comes to a property’s amenities – relative quality and fitness can be difficult to understand.
Of all the amenities, it may be acoustics — noise problems — that are most difficult to pin down. Noise problems plague workers and visitors in commercial buildings, cutting down productivity, security and ultimately, performance. Expensive conference rooms that are impossible to hear in, noisy common areas piling on worker fatigue, or improper and outdated acoustic treatments — all of these are common outcomes of a commercial property industry that understands acoustics poorly at best.
In another life, I built recording studios, so when I met Sound Management Group’s Roy Boccieri at a recent Bisnow medical office conference in Chicago, a lively discussion followed about the understanding of acoustics in commercial property deals.
Why do you think acoustics are so poorly understood by real estate developers, tenants and owners?
RB: They think that acoustics is technology beyond their ability to comprehend. They follow previous building designs/techniques that do not address acoustical issues, meaning unwanted sound transmission from adjacent units and the exterior. It also means managing the propagation of sound within – the new “open floor plan” designs do not allow closing doors to cut down on noise. Buyers/renters don’t even consider acoustics until after the fact. They also accept noisy space as an unalterable fact of life. As in the case of commercial space – occupants get used to bad. They perceive acoustics like the weather – there’s nothing you can do about it. Architects learn little about acoustics in their curriculum and thus it is passed on to the next phase of the project.
There’s a significant upswing in environmental measurement technologies for commercial properties, enabling tenants and managers to watch a buildings’ energy and water usage more closely than ever. What does measurement in audio and acoustics gain for a property owner or operator?
RB: Any developer or builder could have a big competitive advantage if they included acoustical design features and promoted them. With proven increases in efficiencies […] smaller space would be required to accommodate less people to accomplish the same work. In addition, atmosphere and the absence of “noise pollution” are a part of the Green Initiative and figure into the LEED scoring.
Do you do most of your work on the drawing board or as retrofit?
RB: Most of our work – the lions share – is remedial. Fortunately much acoustical correction in commercial space can be accomplished without major disruption. It is “in addition to – not instead of” what is in place – masking, barriers, acoustical wall and ceiling panels. What is visible can be made to look like it was there in the first place and, in some cases, enhance the décor.
In office layouts, the west-coast tech-company “open office” style is gaining popularity. Does this improve or worsen noise problems and opportunities to address noise problems?
RB: Not sure what the “west coast tech company open plan” is or how it’s different that the open plan first introduced from Germany in the ‘60’s. Most modifications – and, there have been many – have affected acoustics one way or another. First, the industry recognized that from a pure acoustical perspective (and to gain acceptance of the concept) partitions should be 60” high, […], high performance ceiling, indirect lighting, block lines of sight, and add sound masking, This resulted in a sameness in space so now for the sake of being different – and “on the cutting edge – partitions are lower, made of glass, the ceilings are exposed deck, etc.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give a new tenant or developer of new space?
RB: Before you begin to design space, determine the general acoustical requirements compatible with the work performed in the space and allow for places separate from the overall space to get things done that cannot be done at individual workstations. The design trend to address this is a proliferation of huddle rooms. The space to do this is gained from smaller individual work stations. A simple sound masking system throughout these more compact open areas accomplishes a quieter workplace and much needed speech privacy at fractions the cost of additional square footage between work stations.