Why a quiet environment is something worth shouting about

Peace and quiet: it's a relatively simple pleasure, but something that should not be taken for granted.

From private workplaces and schools to hospitals and care homes, there are many settings where it can be extremely important (and beneficial) to create a quiet environment in which occupants can concentrate or rest.

The value of silence

We live in a world full of noise. Whether it's road traffic, planes passing overhead, background conversation, the hum of electrical devices or even a ticking clock, it's practically impossible to avoid noise altogether. However, it is possible to reduce it, and doing so can provide valuable benefits.

Consider the importance of a quiet environment in schools, for example, where young people are expected to overcome the many potential distractions around them to concentrate and learn.

Back in 2011, the Telegraph reported on research that indicated silence in the classroom can have a positive impact on children's exam results, as well as boosting their self-esteem and reducing bad behaviour.

Dr Helen Lees, from Stirling University's school of education, pointed out that "enforced silence" is often used as a punishment, but "strong silence" - where pupils are positively encouraged to share a quiet, stress-free environment - can improve concentration and behaviour.

Dr Lees said: "There is no educational reason why silent practices in some way should not be an integral part of a child's education. In fact, when we take various strands of research on school settings and put them together, what we see is that education without silence does not make much sense."

Similar arguments could be made about noisy, hectic workplaces. The environment in which people are expected to reach their highest levels of concentration and productivity - their place of work - is often the most stressful and chaotic.

A study conducted at the University of California, Irvine, found that a typical office worker experiences only 11 minutes of working time between each interruption, and takes 25 minutes on average to return to their original task after the interruption. As difficult (or impossible) as it is to address this issue, employers can take action to reduce environmental noise, which could prove just as distracting as emails, phone calls and unwanted interruptions.

Looking outside the worlds of education and work, healthcare is another field where creating a quiet environment should be a high priority. People in hospitals, care homes and medical centres need a calm setting where they can rest and recuperate.

Creating quiet

As simple as it seems, quiet is not necessarily something that is easy to achieve. In the built environment, however, there are measures that can help to reduce noise and provide a more comfortable setting for the people within.

Natural ventilation can help to create a quiet space by eliminating the need for noisy mechanical equipment, ductwork and diffusers. It also mitigates cold draughts in the winter and provides a healthy flow of fresh air in the summer, creating a more pleasant environment for employees to concentrate on work or for school pupils to focus on learning.

In cases where additional measures are required - for buildings that are situated under flight paths or near busy roads, for example - acoustic attenuation can prove highly beneficial.

Breathing Buildings has been involved in a number of projects combining natural ventilation with acoustic attenuation, including one installation at Barnfield South Academy in Luton, which is located under the flight path of Luton airport and adjacent to the M1 motorway. The building was fitted with a roof ventilation system and an attenuator filled with mineral wool of varying densities to absorb different frequencies of sound.

At the University of Hertfordshire Law School, acoustic attenuation was required to reduce external noise in the full-sized mock courtroom and the classrooms. Breathing Buildings' solution was a bespoke roof termination featuring an attenuator for the R-Series ventilation system. Attenuated low-level dampers providing air inlets were also incorporated into the design.

These sorts of measures can prove highly beneficial when it comes to creating quiet, calm indoor settings, enabling the occupants to focus on the task at hand, or simply to rest and relax.

If creating a healthy, comfortable and productive environment is a priority for your organisation, find out how Breathing Buildings can help by contacting us on 01223 450 060, or emailing info@breathingbuildings.com.

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