Excuse Me....Can You Speak Up? - Design Should Be More Than Visual.

So, there seems to be a trend in current tenant finish to go “clean” and “crisp” with straight lines and distinct surfaces: open seating, granite counters, concrete floors, flat walls with splashes of color. All beautiful and eye catching which is the point (don’t get me wrong), but how many times have you met friends at the local coffee house, bistro or café for some “catching up” only to come to realize it is almost impossible to hear each other speak? The “din” in these establishments can be downright distracting! Recently, I met a few colleagues at a local bar after work for a quick weekly update and, after about twenty minutes of trying to talk above the clatter of glasses, silverware, neighboring conversations, and wait staff, we finally gave up, finished our drinks and found another space to conclude our meeting.

As an architect, this is an important observation and a lesson to take to heart. We are taught the key elements in a successful design are form related to function. In the case of acoustics it seems however function has been often overlooked. Maybe this is intentional? Keeping our stay at any given establishment to a minimum so the turnover supports the business model? Making the venue feel like a “hot-spot” with all the hustle and bustle and people coming and going? Possible, however when it becomes a deterrent to guests, it seems to have backfired. Personally, I find I spend more when I’m relaxed and able to enjoy the surroundings as opposed to feeling rushed and frenzied. I have actually refused to go to certain restaurants (where the food is exceptional) depending on the company I’m with if it’s one where I will not be able to enjoy the conversation due to the incessant noise.

My objective would be to have all of us “designers” consider acoustics as important as any other element in the design of the space. Throw in a few sound absorbing materials, make a few smaller spaces, and possibly even lower a few ceilings to enhance the total experience of the space. You might be surprised the positive reactions you elicit……….