Open-plan teaching environment

Ecophon official reference: School, multimedia resource center, group study. Project: Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan, KTH, The Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. Architect: Ahrbom Arkitektkontor AB. Photo: Åke E:son Lindman. System: Focus DG.

Modern teaching is seeing new pedagogical and more cost-effective methods of exploiting teaching time and premises. An open-plan teaching environment has several groups of students sharing one or more teachers. This means many people working in the same area and so mutual disturbance easily occurs. The approach is similar to that utilised in an open-plan office.

  • The open area may encourage conversation at a distance, while at the same time people move around the whole area, which creates disturbing noise.
  • Hard surface materials create 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.

Ecophon's suggestion

  • Reverberation time of 0.4 seconds. To achieve this, a full acoustic ceiling is needed of sound absorption class A (in accordance with EN ISO 11654).
  • Certain wall surfaces should also be fitted with sound absorbers.
  • This type of teaching environment is difficult to master with regard to sound. It is a good idea to carry out a serious analysis of the pros and cons before planning. An acoustic consultant should be involved in the planning and design process. Besides a full acoustic ceiling, partial or complete barriers such as glazed partitions (preferably with buffer zones like group study rooms etc.), screens or even bookshelves ought to be installed and used.

Building codes and standards

  • UK regulations, Building Bulletin 93 (BB93), states that for primary and secondary schools an unoccupied mid frequency (Tmf) reverberation time of <0.8 seconds be achieved. BB93 also states: The objective is to provide clear communication of speech between teacher and student, and between students in open-plan teaching and study spaces. For enclosed teaching and study spaces it is possible to achieve good speech intelligibility through specification of the indoor ambient noise level, sound insulation and reverberation time. Open-plan spaces require extra specification as they are significantly more complex acoustic spaces. The main issue is that noise from different groups of people functioning independently in the space significantly increases the background noise level, thus decreasing the speech intelligibility. It is therefore important that a speech transmission index rating should be calculated to give an STI of between 0.6 and 1.0 for all open-plan teaching areas.
  • Swedish Standard 02 52 68 recommends a reverberation time of 0.4 seconds. This applies to normally furnished but unoccupied rooms. 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.
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Sound in educational premises

Group of pupils, school, group study, education. Photo: Georg van der Weyden.

A good acoustic environment benefits both teaching and learning.

Ecophon references by - Building type

Architect: Farrell and Clark. Photo: Faraday Fotographic

See what good acoustics look like! Here we have sorted all references by Building type.