The Sounds of Silence at NeoCon 2019

Every year since 1969, The Mart in Chicago has hosted NeoCon, a commercial design event that serves as the industry’s “launch pad for innovation.” Along with 500 leading companies and over 50,000 design professionals, Charles Matsinger Associates Project Manager and Interior Designer, Stephen Whaley, had the opportunity to attend this year. While the event always provides an extensive insight into the latest trends and innovations, the focus on acoustics by the different suppliers was particularly intriguing.

In an effort to improve communication and collaboration amongst employees, organizations are moving from individual offices and high panel cubicles to open work spaces and floor plans. However, with informal meetings and conversations taking place out in the open, how do organizations deal with noise? NeoCon 2019 was represented by a large number of companies and suppliers who had innovative solutions to address this specific issue.

Some solutions “retreated” back to the dedicated space of the not-so-distant past by creating smaller, private spaces which may or may not be dedicated to a single person. Included in this concept was the individual “phone booth.” Not much bigger than the originals that populated street corners around the world, these booths create an acoustic environment to shut out the outside noise for private telephone calls. Larger versions include a chair and counter along with a monitor for video conferences.

Some manufacturers have created an enclosed alcove where the person can relax and feel cocooned, cutting the majority of surrounding background noise.

Acoustic paneling was a common solution amongst many of the providers. However, in addition to having them strategically installed on walls and ceiling surfaces, they are now integrated with the furniture itself.

Lounge chairs made with high-back panels (along with a tablet shelf and electrical ports) create an alcove for employees to work quietly while still accessible in the open space. For those who have adjustable height desks, panels are attached to the work surface and move up and down with the desk ensuring the user is always within the acoustic “bubble.”

For hard walls and surfaces, felted materials were highlighted as an alternative surface cover. These can replace traditional coverings while effectively absorbing noise. Sheets of this material can be applied to entire walls, doubling as tack surfaces as well as sound absorbing panels. This felted material is even being incorporated into lights to control sound as well as illuminate a space or table.

For spaces with no acoustic ceiling tiles, linear panels can be hung to help absorb noise as well as define the ceiling plain. They can even be done as organic shapes that become sculptural elements within a space.

Regardless of the size, type of space, or amount of sound privacy needed, there are a number of creative solutions available. CMA and our acoustical consultants can help define the best solution based on your requirements.

Photos by Stephen Whaley, taken at NeoCon Chicago, 2019