It is amazing the lengths some workers will go to bring a bit of peace and quiet in to the open office. No one needs to point out that personal headphones are everywhere, with the idea that creating your own noise is better than listening to everyone else's. Meetings are often held in stairwells and hallways in often vain attempts just to get away from the din. Some workers simply leave the office altogether — headed to off-site locations hoping to concentrate on their work, just to get away from it all.
The data is compelling:
- 70% of all employees in open work areas report that the biggest impact on their productivity is the conversations of their coworkers. (https://workdesign.com)
- Over half of all employees in non-enclosed work spaces report sound privacy as their biggest frustration. (The Center on the Built Environment)
- It can take as much as 20 minutes to fully regain concentration on complex tasks, once distracted. (www.wsj.com)
Designed acoustics in commercial environments is a hallmark of thoughtful, human-centered design. The experience of working in a space where the acoustics just “work” signals the attention paid to designing the human experience. We know it when we hear it. We value its presence, and reward it with performance. We just don't experience it as often as we should.
We all know that systems furniture was initially created to provide office-based workers with both visual and acoustical privacy. With the decline of systems installations, acoustics has not surprisingly reared its ugly head again as a key design challenge. Yet, this has not foreshadowed some return to the cubicle. Of course, cubicle design gave the impression of solitude, but at its worst implementation, brought a host of its own problems. So, what can office designers do to keep the noise level in an office at a tolerable level?
Fortunately for the A&D community, there are a number of new acoustical panel wall treatments, ceiling systems, and furniture products that not only work to reduce the noise, but also help redefine the space. The latest generation of acoustic panels and products combine science with art, creating acoustical peace while also adding a beautiful element of design to an office.
The market for acoustical products seems to be split into several segments with companies like BuzziSpace and Snowsound working on high end architectural elements. For projects where price is an issue, there are few solutions currently on the market. But, one is on the way. Enter Source Workspace, the exclusive North American distributor of Burgeree™, an acoustical panel and tile company based in China turning your discarded plastic bottles into some of the most beautiful products on the market.
Burgeree™ has successfully integrated R&D, state of the art clean manufacturing, and design to create a green product manufactured from 100% polyester fibers without chemical binders.Their PET panel has sound-absorbing, non-toxic, green-certified odorless, fire retardant and mold-resistant characteristics.
A brief history of plastic bottles magically becoming acoustical treatments and products:
PET – Polyethylene terephthalate – has been used in a variety of applications for 60 years, and is growing as a primary carpet fiber. 56 million tons were produced in 2016. Its use as an acoustical material has also been growing, but the science-based manufacturing processes developed and applied by Burgeree to PET is taking the eco-friendly material to a whole new performance level. PET is 100% recyclable, and is the most recycled plastic in the USA and around the world.
In an industry where a lot of attention is paid to earth-friendly materials and applications, PET offers a great opportunity to make a difference, in addition to enhancing the livability of open environments. Each 4' x 8' PET panel of Burgeree recycles 280 – 16oz plastic drinking water bottles, bottles that don't end up in a landfill (or worse). In meeting their first year sales target, Source Workspace will recycle 8 million water bottles.
The first difference one notices about Burgeree is that it offers designers a clean slate to work with in a rainbow of 60 colors. In its production process, the company starts with bales of PET plastic that look like cotton fiber when they enter its factory in the middle of Yangchen Lake Ecological Leisure Tourism Center, about an hour and a half drive from Shanghai. Through a unique application of heat, weaving and pressure, Burgeree turns these PET bales into acoustic panels that can be cut to virtually any shape and used to make just about anything. Burgeree patented G2 technology features true vibrant color all the way through the material, meaing a panel or tile can be cut, shaped, or molded without needing edge trim.
These are non-toxic, thermal insulating products that are both functional and decorative. The panels are tested to industry standards, and have a noise reduction coefficient (NRC) of up to 0.8, depending on thickness. The panels also pass fire retardant standards, and are available in both Class B and Class A ratings. The company can produce the panels in thicknesses ranging from 3 to 24 millimeters. But what gets designers excited is the broad palette of colors, shapes and molded forms that can be made from the Burgeree product. PET offers the added benefit for designers and architects to create functional design elements.
With Burgeree's patented G2 technology, Source Workspace is introducing a game-changing process into North America. By introducing a UV High-Definition printing process directly on to the surface of its exceptionally-smooth G2 panels, tiles and screens, designers have a clean pallet upon which to impact space design.
Imagine creating a wall that looks like concrete without the noise. Or perhaps the client would like a logo created from the panels. Maybe the designer wants the look of barn wood, but wants the office quiet as well. The panels can be shaped as well, creating pyramids and cubes — or even shaped into furniture. Want your extended-length wall lined with the image of the Golden Gate Bridge while offering great acoustical capability? Welcome to Burgeree.
Burgeree™ might have never made it to North America if it hadn't been for a pair of industry veterans who were combing the China International Furniture Fair in Shanghai last year. Mark Denham and Lea Goldenring were walking through the massive show and came upon the Burgeree booth. Alan Morgenstern of Morgenstern Consulting Group – a longtime colleague and mentor to Denham, had suggested Denham keep his eye out for acoustical panels.
“It was the last building, on the last day of the show, and our feet were killing us,” said Denham, who sold his Ergo Contract business to Enwork last year. “We decided to go to one last booth, and we walked by Burgeree, and our eyes popped out.” They discovered what Morgenstern had been asking for.
“It is a great story,” Denham said. “The product uses more than 50 percent post-consumer recycled materials. There are no binders and no chemicals used — just heat, weaving and pressing. So, it has a great environmental aspect. In open offices, it creates a visual barrier and really makes a difference when it comes to noise. You can also print on it without significant impact to the acoustical performance.”
Denham thought it was a great product to help address the acoustical issues inherent in most open plan offices.
The father-son ownership team at Burgeree were sold on North American distribution. But, they wanted to go a step further. They are committed to building a plant in the U.S. to produce the product here. Denham is working with them to find a suitable location to come online with US-based production planned to take place in 2017.
Applications for the product and the design are in the commercial furnishings, contract interiors, hospitality, health care and other familiar markets in treatments for walls and ceilings, space division products, and screens. It is a material that lets the imagination run a bit wild.
Since the product can be molded, it has been used in 3D wall applications that create dimensional interiors or panel wrap, such as an acoustical room divider. In this use, its color consistency enhances the creative capabilities.
Burgeree will be on display at NeoCon 2017 in space 7-1018 in the Source Workspace, as well as at NeoCon East. You can learn more about both Burgeree and Source Workspace at www.sourceworkspace.com.
Headphones may not disappear from the office environment any time soon. But now, they will remain for perhaps a single reason – to enjoy the music. If Burgeree and Source Workspace has their way, visual and acoustical privacy may make a big comeback, sans the panel system. Our environment will be a winner in the process, and the design of the workspace will also improve.