Designing for Acoustic Control in a Modern Office

Case Study

The best offices are laid out with people in mind, so it's important to design a space conducive to staff members' various roles and the activities they undertake within different zones.

The modern open plan office isn't as modern as you may think — originating in Germany in the 1950’s, the open plan office has been subject to much debate on productivity and suitability for an action-packed work environment.

After half a century of widespread acceptance that open plan is an inevitable end point in office evolution, it's also about time that we answer the questions about the suitability of the modern plan office.

Yes, the open modern plan office has its downsides; noise levels and distractions are obvious issues that bring the modern plan office into critique. The true answer isn’t to just simply eliminate these issues by putting up walls and dividers, but to understand how the end user uses their space, and the amount of time they spend in different activities.

By understanding the activities and end user experience we can start to define how the office should be set up. The best offices are laid out with the office's people in mind, designing a space conducive to their roles and the activities they undertake within the space.

Knowing this, a recent study has identified the three main types of work activity that take place; this consists of focused work (70%), collaboration (23%) and socialising (7%). These different behaviours require different 'Work Zones'. A focused zone requires a quiet, naturally lit, temperate environment that has minimal distraction, whereas a collaborative zone needs a space conducive to loud talking, discussion and even some passionate yelling.

So rather than an open plan office where staff have their own desks, they should be working in a free moving system where they can go sit in the right zone for the type of work activity they are about to take part it in.

To create these zones, visual and acoustic barriers need to be prevalent to identify a definite line between the zones. Acoustically, the focus zone needs to have high absorption, whereas a collaborative zone needs to have a high noise level while eliminating sound transfer so staff members can work loud without disrupting others. The social zone also requires sound to be completely absorbed and not affect other areas.

Because of these different types of acoustic control, it is important to design offices with acoustics in mind from the beginning; this gives you the ability to create ideal work zones in your office.


Feeling puzzled about open plan offices? Autex Industries are world leaders in interior acoustic design and will work with designers or architects who are looking for specialised knowledge on aesthetically pleasing interior acoustics.

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