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NoiseMatters - News

Building Schools for the Future: Making Open-Plan Work


Community College Whitstable

Community College Whitstable and Northfleet School for Girls were both part of the first wave of Kent's BSF (building schools for the future) Scheme. AAD were appointed as acoustic specialist advisors on the project, which was phased over a lengthy time period to allow parts of buildings to be demolished and rebuilt, section by section.

As open-plan teaching is a hot topic amongst architects and designers, the open-plan teaching space design theme for these assignments fostered a challenging and an ultimately rewarding acoustic design process. The reason for this is that for open plan teaching spaces to work, particular acoustic design expertise is required. As Building Bulletin 93 (2003) (the acoustic design guide for schools) is incorporated into the Building Regulations, following its guidance and demonstrating you have done so is mandatory; this means every school must have any new building designed in accordance with BB93 guidelines. For open-plan teaching spaces, BB93 sets particularly stringent acoustic standards; in order to ensure sound propagation within open plan spaces complies with BB93 requirements, 3D sound propagation modelling within open-plan spaces is essential. As is robust experience of the acoustic consultant performing the modelling task.

Community College Whitstable

Predominantly, this is all about the provision of compliant speech intelligibility, which is measured by modelling the combination of a number of parameters including background noise levels in the space(s), room shape(s), surface treatment and finishes. All of these parameters can be adjusted to refine and deliver requisite speech intelligibility. An open plan teaching space might, for example, incorporate three learning 'bases' - often split on two or more levels - which have little inherent acoustic separation or speech quality. Alternatively, these bases might be on the same level, simply divided by appearance barriers. Unless acoustic specialists such as AAD assess the baseline design according to speech intelligibility requirements, it is frankly unlikely that BB93 mandated levels of speech intelligibility would be achieved. Design elements investigated and often changed or refined according to modelling results include sound reflection, absorption and diffusion. AAD has robust experience in the acoustic refinement of interior design to deliver particular acoustic performance requirements.

Unsurprisingly, considerable 3D modelling time and expertise was invested in supporting these assignments. Community College Whitstable was nominated for Best School Refurbishment. As a result of AAD's expert acoustic advice, both schools are now held up as examples of best practice in open-plan school design.