An Acoustical Solution for Our Changing Workplaces

Total Acoustics from Armstrong Ceilings offers flexibility as interiors change to meet shifting needs.

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Courtesy Armstrong Ceilings

To safely operate in a world transformed by COVID-19, businesses are changing the designs and even roles of their workspaces. One common solution is to erect dividers, often made of clear glass or plastic, to ensure social distancing and compartmentalize workers. One unfortunate side-effect of this profusion of partitions is unwanted noise.

Office hubbub is a familiar problem, but the pandemic is introducing new challenges. “We’re looking at all these partitions,” says Liesl Morell, an architectural and contract sales manager at Armstrong Ceilings. “There’s going to be so many hard, wipeable surfaces, and these tend to be more reflective of noise. That sound is going to be reflected up towards the ceiling.”

To stop that sound from traveling, Armstrong Ceilings has developed an efficient and versatile solution. Its Total Acoustics ceiling panels both absorb and block sound, not only helping to create a more serene environment, but also ensuring that speakers receive the privacy they expect. “I think people assume when they go into a space with a door, that the speech is going to be contained,” Morell says. “But if you have a ceiling that’s acoustically transparent, then it goes through the ceiling before it comes down on the other side.”

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Courtesy Armstrong Ceilings

Each Total Acoustics panel is made of a mineral fiber that combines sustainable material such as recycled newspaper, perlite, and slag baked into a smooth board. While a ceiling panel with less sound control might be more akin to a sponge, having an entirely porous structure, the Total Acoustics panel is fairly dense to prevent sound penetration and reflection.

At the new Palo Alto workplace of Jazz Pharmaceuticals, STUDIOS Architecture worked with Armstrong to install Total Acoustics in various spaces, from private offices and breakout rooms to more open settings. Designers introduced an abundance of glass walls and frosted glass partitions to give the overall environment a greater spirit of openness and collaboration, but any consequential sound reflectivity is effectively countered by the acoustically secure ceiling panels. “The approaches to these spaces are all different so we worked together to determine which products would be best,” Karen Koenig, associate principal of STUDIOS Architecture says. “We came up with the idea to have floating clouds over the workstations, and then to have bigger, longer planks above circulation paths.”

In addition to customization, Total Acoustics panels also offer significant design flexibility, allowing businesses to manage noise even as they continue to rework their settings. “Nobody really knows, to be honest, where we’re going with office designs, but we’re seeing with a lot of our clients, [an interest in] more collaborative spaces rather than cramming them with open workstations,” Koenig says. “Clients are saying that the office is going to be used differently.”

No matter the spatial redesigns that workplaces continue to adopt, be it more plexiglass dividers, less office benching, or other innovative configurations, Total Acoustics can provide a simple, adaptable solution to persistent office buzz in a sleek design that doesn’t add visual clutter.

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