Architects need to design schools with acoustics as a primary focus to ensure that students are able to engage in learning without being affected by noise.

Architects must design schools with acoustics as a primary focus to ensure that students are able to engage in learning without being affected by noise.

Switzerland’s leading specialist in acoustics, Sergio Baumann, has conducted research showing that background noise greatly affects students’ ability to learn efficiently. He says the process of communication has to consider the building in which it takes place as part of the process.

“We invest all this time and money in teaching and the syllabus,” said Baumann.

“But it’s all about sending. There is no conversation about receiving, and that’s insane.”

Ab Rogers, head of the Royal College of Art’s interior design programme concurs, saying that interior design goes well beyond aesthetics.

“We need to be creating for all five senses and beyond in this day and age,” he said.

sound absorbing barriers

Sound Absorbing Barriers in Classroom.

“Clients and participants have higher expectations of their surroundings these days and that leads to the want of greater sound improvement.”

Over the past few decades, classrooms have been designed to engage students in hands-on activities, which often results in a noisy environment. The acoustics in classrooms are often neglected.

In an environment where a large part of critical childhood learning occurs, the importance of acoustics in design is paramount. Clear communication is a necessity considering up to 60 per cent of primary school activities involve speech between teachers and students between students.

The hearing of children 13 years of age and under is not fully developed, making background noise more detrimental. For teachers, loud classrooms result in the need to raise their voices which often leads to increased fatigue and stress.

Designers must consider the limitations in children’s ability to hear as most acoustic problems in classrooms occur because of lack of education among designers.

“I’d love to see acoustics included in an architect’s training in a much more serious way, with more of a conversation between architects and specialists,” said Baumann.

noise absorbing ceiling materials

Noise-Absorbing Ceiling Materials.

Inside classrooms most background noise comes from HVAC noise (air conditioning, vents), speech echo, outdoor noise (airplanes, traffic), and noise from areas in close proximity.

How to Reduce Classroom Noise:

  • Use mineral wood board or other acoustically absorbent material on top of concrete flooring
  • Use landscape design to help with acoustics – use shrubs, trees and banks to reduce external noise
  • Consider the noise impact of rain on lightweight roofs
  • Fill exterior wall gaps and cracks with elastic bonding for noise insulation
  • Seal gaps in doorways and window frames
  • Pads can be installed under the school’s supporting structure to reduce structural background noise
  • Monitor the degradation of exterior wall gaps for sound insulation
  • Carpeting in classrooms reduces noise
  • Use carpeting and acoustic ceiling tiles in hallways for better noise reduction
  • Acoustic-treated curtains in front windows reduce the proliferation of external noise
  • Use a full or partial suspended acoustical ceiling to reduce interior noise
  • Decrease the amount of hard, smooth surfaces which assists sound reverberation and increases noise
  • Increase the use of rough and porous materials (carpeting, bulletin boards)
  • Position large blackboards at non-parallel angles to the walls to reduce echoes
  • The rear wall of the room should have sound-absorbing materials to prevent sound from echoing back to the front

There are several acoustic barriers to learning, whether or not teachers and students are aware of them. Since adults hear differently than children, they should not rely on personal assessments of conditions for classroom acoustic levels. Schools catering to all education levels should be designed to control background noise levels and reverberation times to create a more efficient learning environment.