It’s designers and engineers to the rescue, with the development of new materials and systems to improve the sound quality of public spaces and work environments. Danish textile company Kvadrat has developed a three-dimensional acoustic textile panel system that is meant to “bring ‘softness’ to minimalist spaces.” Kvadrat Soft Cells is a modular system, in which “[e]ach panel comprises a recycled aluminium frame filled with acoustic foam, which can be covered with a wide range of Kvadrat textiles.” Their approach helps architects working with free-form surfaces in a wide variety of different shapes, “which enables architects to design spaces with very specific acoustic properties.” Says design director Jesper Nielsen, “[w]ith this very open and lightweight construction you have the possibility to adjust the absorptive qualities of the surface between absorption, reflection and diffusion.”
Another breakthrough in sound abatement is the development of a sound absorbing material called Basotect®. Developed by BASF, Basotect® “is made from the chemicals melamine and formaldehyde which usually react to form a hard plastic,” but BASF “added a ‘blowing agent’ that turns to gas and creates bubbles inside the polymer.” Basotect® has some “interesting properties”:
As well as being a thermal insulator, it has the remarkable ability to turn sound into heat. The mechanism is simple. Sound waves are better able to enter its open cell structure than a closed cell. Inside the material, the waves set the polymer strands vibrating, heating them up. This heat then radiates away.
So how effective is Basotect® at absorbing sound? According to the New Scientist, it:
[H]elped improve the sound quality in Beijing’s swimming stadium built for the 2008 Olympics. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York utilized it to create an immersive installation called PSAD Synthetic Desert III by artist Doug Wheeler where visitors can escape the sounds of the city….
In the best of all worlds, we would control noise at the outset so that mitigation would be unnecessary. Sadly, that world does not exist. For us, we must turn to designers and engineers to design materials that absorb and diffuse sound and make public spaces and workplaces hearing friendly.