Presenting FF&E Talks in collaboration with NGC Nafees.
Workspaces with open floor plans are the modern-day standard for office design, and there’s a reason for that: they boost creativity, encourage teamwork, and foster collaboration. But there’s one downside: noise. Environmental noise strains the brain, heart, and ears, according to Dr Wolfgang Babisch, senior researcher at the German Federal Environmental Agency specialising in environmental noise.
The panel discussion, titled “Noise pollution: How loud are our offices?”, hosted by NGC Nafees, looked at real-time project case studies in the region and the effects of noise on employee well-being as well as available solutions and products.
The panel included Dragana Cemalovic from Bluehaus Group, Vijay Nambiar from Roar, Adriana Graur from DWP, Stuart Allen from AAID, Joakim de Rham from Swiss Bureau, as well as NGC’s general manager James Prathap, as their host, and Marina Mrdjen from Intelier as the moderator.
The six-part “FF&E Design Talks with NGC Nafees” aims to bring together leading interior designers for discussions on the challenges, opportunities, and trends in FF&E design across hospitality, commercial, and residential sectors.
Stuart Allen: Acoustic specialists should be involved early in a project
Acoustics is one of the most important considerations that interior designers can be challenged on or held responsible for because designers cannot see it and can’t fix it afterwards, as Allen explains it.
“Acoustic specialists should be involved early in a project. Acoustic issues must be resolved during the construction process with all stakeholders involved from the contractor to the project manager and the client,” he says.
“Bringing an acoustic specialist on board early in the process when you’re laying out your projects, deciding on the wall thickness when trying to go slab to slab on walls, and the treatment of additional layers on those walls is prevalent in what we do. It’s very important to get acoustic reports and to determine how well the existing building performs acoustically. “
Stuart Allen, managing director at AAID
AAID’s founder and managing director says that traditionally glass partitions were the main acoustic treatment, limiting noise transference from one room to another.
“However, in the last few years, acousticians have become a necessity, as recommended by our team, the project manager or the client. It is essential in a design that the client is educated about reverberation and noise transference.”
Dragana Cemalovic: I prefer concealed acoustic solutions, which are integrated into the structure
According to Cemalovic, following the Covid pandemic, designers are now focusing more on the overall experiences and creating a comfortable, healthy, and safe workspace for people in the office.
Dragana Cemalovic, associate at BluehausGroup
Recently, Dragana and her team at Bluehaus Group completed the new Du headquarters in Dubai Hills Business Park, which required noise control throughout a seven-storey office environment.
“Taking place right after the Covid-19 pandemic, we needed to design around Du’s new workplace strategy by bringing people back together, opening communication and removing barriers while creating a collaborative, positive and safe work environment for everyone.
This concept immediately raised acoustics concerns as she points out.
“We separated all areas that could potentially cause noise pollution by creating a ring around the open plan core,” says Cemalovic. “Our team created the so-called ‘Live Link’ around the core featuring activity-driven spaces such as meeting and team rooms, collaboration spaces, and multifunctional spaces.”
Dragana prefers concealed acoustic solutions, integrated into the structure, and designing walls and floors to minimise unwanted sound transmission between spaces.
Vijay Nambiar: Do people get annoyed when it’s very noisy? Yes, but only when they don’t have a choice
“Do people get annoyed when it’s very noisy? Yes, but only when they don’t have a choice,” says Nambiar who’s currently with his team at Roar designing a large co-working space in Abu Dhabi that targets creative professionals such as architects, designers, and photographers.
“As designers, we like the chatter because it’s also a way of learning from other people,” says Nambiar. “So, the creatives who will be renting these spaces will also rent the community experience.”
It’s about the quality of noise and the intention behind it, as he puts it.
“We had to create spaces that allowed for noise, attracting people to the community, but also giving them the option of moving into their own sanctuaries or smaller spaces where they could focus and work. The acoustics had to be carefully considered since it is a very high-volume space with different sound interactions,” he says.
Vijay Nambiar, associate at ROAR
According to him, the clients are becoming more aware of the risks of overlooking acoustics during the design process.
“And that helps us because now we are able to design better,” explains Nambiar. “As designers, we tend to be lazy sometimes. When we know that certain products works, we tend to stay with it. Now, more experts and product specialists, like NGC Nafees, are coming to our office to show us different products and applications, and what value they can add to our projects. That’s how we learn.”
Adriana Graur: Our design process will be heavily influenced by adaptability in the future
According to Graur, some of the ways interior designers can control sound in an office environment are designing walls and floors to minimise unwanted sound transmission between spaces, specifying absorptive finish materials, and planning adjacent spaces with similar uses and noise levels.
“Additionally, we work at different times, so the workplace has changed as well. We’re working remotely and more collaboratively, so different ways to look at the spaces and acoustics are required for those work scenarios. Our design process will be heavily influenced by adaptability in the future,” she says.
Graur points out that the flexibility designers need to work with acoustic products, as well as manufacturers’ willingness to develop them further, also played an important role in their evolution, especially in the last two years.
“Before we were looking at buffers as the only solution for the open-plan offices, now we’re looking at curves and how we can apply the acoustics into a curve partition or how we can treat the glazing that still requires acoustics with micro-perforated foils that act as sound comfort optimiser,” she adds.
Adriana Graur, design director at DWP
Previously, Adriana was one of the designers involved with one of the key government headquarters projects, envisaged to become a futuristic development in terms of design, sustainability and well-being, whilst targeting LEED Platinum and nZEB status.
She comments: “Bringing everything to the excellence level becomes more challenging when you need to incorporate the MEP requirements, Net Zero goal, sustainability, great acoustic performance with beautiful design. During our time here, we’ve gained a deep understanding of how to work with the highest international standards, including acoustics, and how to apply them correctly.”
Joakim de Rham: Good acoustics are no longer optional, but a necessity.
In a study published by Oxford Economics, two-thirds of office workers lack private workspaces that can be used for focused work. Workers in noisy offices are more likely to quit within six months.
Acoustics are now becoming as important to employee wellbeing as the lighting in workspaces, says Swiss Bureau Interior Design CEO & Co-Founder – Joakim de Rham.
“Good acoustics are no longer optional, but a necessity. Additionally, acoustic products and solutions are improving dramatically, from well-known buffers to sleek new designs. The wallpapers and different materials we’ve seen today at NGC Nafees are beautiful and you don’t realise they also have acoustic performances,” he says.
Joakim De Rham, CEO & Co-Founder at Swiss Bureau
According to the same study, 75 per cent of employees take walks outside to concentrate, and 32 per cent use headphones to block out distractions. One of the Swiss Bureau’s existing clients instituted a week of silence to allow their teams to fully focus on a specific project by reducing distractions, such as phones, music, and loud talking.
“We have recently completed another large project here in Dubai for a luxurious brand company with 40% of the staff still working from home. However, the acoustic is not only between employees but also when we have Zoom meetings with our clients. So we have to provide adequate spaces that support the concept of hybrid working, from collaboration rooms to meeting pods.”
According to de Rham, the level of knowledge among designers about noise pollution issues is low because acoustics is not properly taught in design schools.
“Our senior designers have extensive experience dealing with acoustic challenges on every project, and they train younger designers in this area based on their experience. Acoustic specialists are definitely brought on board for more complex projects to help with their extensive knowledge,” he says.
James Prathap: 3D architectural walls are developed to meet the needs of project managers and contractors, depending on the project’s purpose and style
NGC Nafees’ general manager James Prathap showcased the company’s latest products, including Texdecor acoustic panels and 3D wall decor made in France, York acoustic wallpapers and flooring solutions with optimal sound absorption and insulation from Dutch brand BLOQ.
“BLOQ flooring products reduce impact noise by 26 decibels, resulting in excellent acoustics. Additionally, Texdecor’s 3D architectural wall decor enhances interiors with its look, while guaranteeing its acoustic comfort and compliance,” explains Prathap
NGC Nafees offers Texdecor acoustic panels and 3D walls
Acoustic qualities are exclusively developed by Texdecor teams to meet the needs of project managers and contractors, depending on the project’s purpose and style. Texdecor wallcoverings come in a wide range of finishes, from extremely resistant and easy-to-care vinyl to fine materials and paintable fibres to coordinate and renovate.
James Prathap, NGC Nafees
During the pandemic, NGC also developed an interactive website with an extensive digital material library, featuring more than 17,000 products across all categories.
Next month’s FF&E panel at NGC Nafees will spotlight some of the most prominent high-end residential designers discussing where grand opulence meets minimalism in home design.