Hear What’s New in Acoustics: Binaural Beats
It’s no surprise that as architecture continues to evolve, the art is starting to borrow from other senses, creating an impact that elevates human experience through design.
Biophilia is taking the practice by storm, rooted in a foundation of evidence based design proven to improve mental health through the intentional use of natural elements, biomimicry, and natural light. Our designs have also focused beyond the body. Using the principles from WELL, we now create spaces that allow for the wellbeing of the mind.
With a focus on wellness, sounds and acoustics that are disruptive or cause stress are a substantial topic of conversation, and one that we are heavily delving into. For those who might need a refresher on those issues, see our recap below.
Our article today stems from an interesting concept found by our Research + Innovation team at M+A. Our team is constantly searching for what will be next, anticipating the ways architecture will continue to evolve and strategic ways to adapt.
Enter binaural beats. The concept is simple - different audio beats can entrain the brain to different states. The effect on the listener is dependent on the brainwave state that the music is targeting.
Beats per minute (BPM) is a more common known measure of sound, depicting the pace of a song. Typically, songs with a higher BPM are known to help “pump up” the listener, whereas slower BPM choices have a calming effect.
Music and sounds with a higher Hz are known as “Gamma” beats, which are on one extreme end of the spectrum. These sounds, ranging from 30-100 Hz, are associated with encouraging high-level information processing, cognitive enhancement, memory recall, peaking awareness and creating a transcendental state. Contrarily, on the opposite end of the spectrum, 0.1-4 Hz sounds are “Delta” beats. Delta beats are proven to help encourage deep sleep, help with pain relief, aid in a reduction of cortisol (there it is again), and increase in DHEA. DHEA helps your body manage stress, as well as facilitating healing within the body mentally and physically while unlocking access to the unconscious mind.
Our team is looking into ways this could address some of the concerns surrounding acoustic design in the workplace. See below for more on that subject, and learn more about the concept of binaural beats here that could help you find ways to incorporate these practices in your life personally, and perhaps even professionally.
Now why should we consider this concept? Well, as we said before it could help deal with the stress that can come from undesired noise in our surrounding environment.
In our workplace sector, acoustic design has become a key trigger for our clients as we have conversations around how their employees work best. Part of the concern is productivity and social, but it is also about wellbeing on the physical front. Something to note is that this is not just related to an open office environment. This issue can be had almost anywhere in the workplace when the correct design principles are not applied.
Consider this - As you go about your day, the space you are in does not provide any acoustic privacy, or all the surfaces are too reflective and create a noisy environment. What this does to the body is well documented - this creates stress. This stress can be both perceived and subconsciously noted. When the body is under stress it releases cortisol and adrenaline, which in natural situations are helpful and part of our biological history. However, when the body is under long-term activation of the stress-response system it can disrupt the body’s natural processes. In fact, this long-term stress has been linked to heart disease and concentration issues to name just two.
So to say that solutions that help eliminate acoustic stress are important, might be downplaying it a bit.
To address this concern in the workplace, there are several approaches that this can be taken during the design process to help reduce acoustical issues:
1- Consider the function of the space. This will lead to the correct use of material, arrangement, and products that make up the space.
2- Material selection is key. Sound can be absorbed or reduced by the materials in the space. In general, if you think of sound as a wave it ricochets throughout the space - going up and then down. So the simplest start for materials is to make sure either your floors or ceilings have qualities that will absorb or reduce noise/sound. This means that it can help reduce the sound from across the room interrupting your concentration.
3- Sounds masking is another approach. This uses technology to create white or pink noise in the space that will help reduce speech intelligibility.
4- Being cognizant of the HVAC/Mechanical systems. This isn’t so much a solution as it is something that should be considered during design. Be aware of where the mechanical systems are being placed in the space. You want to avoid placing the pieces of equipment that create more noise, like the VAV box, over a worker’s head or a room meant for privacy. The noise caused by these systems can be just as distracting or irritating as a loud talker.
5- When considering spatial layout, provide some separation. Open offices can work - they just need to be thought out properly. A sea of openness will allow sound to travel freely, and placing open meeting spaces in the middle of workstations can cause major distractions. By providing architectural or acoustic separating panels, you can break up the open environment, block noise, and allow for area where focus work needs to occur not be interrupted by communal/social work spaces.
6- One last one, is to consider providing mental wellness or respite rooms. Sometimes, employees need to be away and have heads down time. This could be to focus on a project, or a moment to step outside of the workday mentality. Research shows that taking a break actually can make you more productive.
by Mark Bryan
Associate, Senior Interior Designer
Mark is an energetic, creative and dedicated environmental graphics and interior designer at M+A. His favorite sports team is his alma mater: Virginia Tech University.