Promoting speech privacy and acoustical comfort in office buildings has always been an important consideration for designers, owners, and occupants. Acoustical comfort has many degrees, including reduction of stress, enhancing focus, and reducing distractions. It can also create a more pleasurable and relaxing environment.
Concurrently, the sustainable and green design movements have evolved the language of design and building to include a more holistic understanding of occupant comfort. This includes the materials and systems that occupants interface with and use. Additionally, interior environmental quality considerations, including noise, are incorporated into green building rating systems such as WELL, LEED, CHPS, and others. However, it is not merely about providing a slightly better or more efficient system, but also understanding on a deeper level the effects of a buildings environment on peoples health. One aspect of this is the concept of biophilia, where designers look to natural systems and materials for inspiration. The interior acoustical environment is a significant part of that.
Electronic sound masking systems have been used in office environments for decades, and their efficacy, when appropriately designed and installed, has been proven repeatedly. What has been changing in recent years is the concept of biophilic sound masking systems, which do not merely broadcast broadband noise (AKA pink noise or “white” noise) in a space. These systems can broadcast natural sounds such as running water, animals, wind, etc. that are not only pleasing and soothing, but also effective in sound masking.
This paper will describe biophilia in general how it relates to the interior noise environment, and related design considerations. In addition, the paper includes a case study of an office building project that employed a sound masking system with biophilic capabilities.