An Indian architect’s perspective on indoor acoustics

Indian architect Zainab Mukadam Baig
Indian architect Zainab Mukadam Baig

Our Indian office acoustics specialist, Manit Ramaiya has interviewed experienced architect Zainab Mukadam Baig from leading architectural and interior design firm Concept Architectural Services. Not too unexpected, she explains that there are quite some cultural differences when comparing Indian offices with western counterparts, but did you also know that Indian architects face challenges like lack of acousticians and technical know-how?

1) In reference to international setups, what is your opinion on the overall interior comfort of the modern offices of India?

The kind of development that has taken place in the last ten years in the office space in India far exceeds the kind of development that has happened over the last 20 to 30 years. There are some key differences between Indian office spaces and the western counterparts.

Firstly, the density of the office population. A lot of people packed into one space which in turn creates its own set of issues that architects have to address.

The second part is that the Indians are very diverse in terms of language, culture, ethnicity, even our body type or the ergonomics; we have a diverse range in the Indian plane and so we have to cater to a wide array of people or clients.

The third part is that in certain countries, people have to be taught to collaborate; people have to be brought together whereas Indians have an inherent nature to accompany people and
being around people all the time – we enjoy that! So as architects, our challenge is to create spaces that allow this natural sense of collaboration.

The fourth point to remember in terms of the Indian scene is the climatic conditions or the seasonal changes that happen across the year. As architects we have to be very sensitive to the kind of material choices that we make, they have to be low on maintainability and they shouldn’t gather dust. For example, clients today are asking for hard surfaces in the flooring as against carpet for hygiene issues. Now this opens another set of challenges for us in the overall interior comfort value.

2) What are your thoughts about the sound quality or the acoustic environment in these interior spaces?

We have to accept that Indians tend to be loud; so as designers we have to ensure, in the space planning stage itself, that we isolate the focus work zones from the noisy chaotic areas like the cafeteria, the collaboration areas or the reception areas.

Another important factor is that an office needs to have energy and vibrancy but the sound should not be distracting to the employee. So the challenge for us is; how do you remove that without removing the buzz of the acoustic environment? Today there are no clear guidelines when it comes to acoustics in the Indian office space and we tend to adapt ideas from across the globe, which may not be the best solution to the Indian prototype!

3) What are usually the key criteria you look for, under office acoustics?

The main purpose is to reduce reverberation and echo in enclosed areas like meeting rooms and board rooms. There should not be any sound leakage between various confidential rooms like cabins and meeting spaces, and also to ensure that there is low ambient noise in chaotic areas like cafeterias, town halls, etc. So the aim is to have an office where a person can have a conversation without getting disturbed by others or by disturbing others.

4) Amongst the specifier group; architects, project management consultants and end-users, are they equally oriented towards providing the right auditory comfort in interior spaces?

Yes, today all the end-users desire better acoustics! But apart from the cost incurred to the client, the consultants are often wary about using acoustic materials due to reasons like logistics, availability and technical know-how. The solution is that we need to have more acoustic consultants in the market today who can better advise on applications and benefits of acoustic materials.

Furthermore, we should be able to realistically study pre and post application of acoustic materials to test – what happens to the sound in the room.

5) To what extent do you really feel that a good acoustic environment affects the way people work and communicate?

I don’t need to have an opinion on this! There are various studies conducted to back what I am saying – for example in a recent study conducted by a well-known university, it was found that it takes approximately 15 minutes for a person to refocus on the task at hand once he or she looses concentration. This means the loss of 15 minutes of the company-paid time; so you can imagine what it means in terms of overall revenue for the company. A person’s efficiency is known to go up by 20% by virtue of having better acoustics in office space which means an increase of 20% increment in the overall profitability for the company; hence by investing in better acoustics, a company can reap very high rewards.

6) How do you look at the future of ‘Office Acoustics’ space in our country?

The future is very promising. There is a lot of scope for improvement and the good news is that the market is aligned to accept change; which means that there is scope to increase profitability and productivity of our current office spaces!


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