These areas function as transport routes, meeting places and break areas where people come and go and where a great deal of verbal communication takes place. They are natural gathering points, places to enjoy social contact and to relax between lessons.
Large open areas encourage conversation at a distance, which results in people tending to raise their voices, trying to be heard over others. Sound breeds sound, creating a disturbing "cocktail of noise".
Music may also contribute to the noise level.
Hard surface materials reflect sound, which creates problematic sound amplification and sound propagation. The sound is transported a long way and so disturbs a large number of people.
Hard flooring creates noisy footsteps.
Building codes and standards
UK Regulations, Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) states: The objective is to absorb sound in corridors, entrance halls and stairwells so that it does not interfere with teaching and study in adjacent rooms. The requirement is to include additional absorption in corridors, entrance halls and stairwells. The amount of additional sound absorption should be calculated according to Approved Document E, section 7.
Swedish Standard 02 52 68 recommends a reverberation time of 0.5 or 0.6 seconds depending on the selected quality level for the communal area. This applies to normally furnished rooms but unoccupied. The above figure is the highest recommended value for the frequency range 250 - 4,000 Hz. At 125 Hz a value 20% higher is permitted.