The silent problems of noise

India is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Noise surrounds many parts of Indian life, indoors as well as outdoors. In this context Manit Ramaiya, Concept Development Manager at Ecophon in Mumbai, faces a rising interest in the silent problems of noise.

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India is a melting pot and multitude of people and cultures. But the noise aspect that follows the density is certainly a problem when it comes to traffic conditions, constant honking and the sheer intensity of sounds.

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“It is not the case that we have adjusted ourselves to the chaos around, but we have a bit different tolerance level compared to the western countries. However, this tolerance level has no linkage to how it can affect our basic thinking and cognitive skills vis-à-vis anyone else in the world. Definitely noise and high ambient sounds affect us in many more ways than we can imagine”, Manit Ramaiya says.

Still, India has produced a great number of eminent scientists, doctors, software engineers and business leaders. This indicates the future potential of better acoustic conditions.

“The real quest now is to improvise from here and ensure better conditions both indoors and outdoors.”

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Our shopping malls are among the noisiest in the world, and even places like school buildings lack clarity of speech for the last benches.

A new-born interest in acoustics

When it comes to indoor environments, the story is no different according to Manit Ramaiya.

“Our shopping malls are among the noisiest in the world, and even places like school buildings lack clarity of speech for the last benches. We still do not focus on the acoustic aspects, as much as a developing country like India ideally should.”

But there is hope. Manit Ramaiya sees a new-born and intense interest in these matters.

“There are some employers and architect consultants who hugely acknowledge the acoustic aspects and are rigorously working towards betterment of indoor spaces. The last five or six years, we have seen a good acceptance towards new solutions and better benchmarks regarding noise levels. But we have a long way to go. I would say that many Indians don’t even know that there is a solution to these issues.”

Standards and guidelines need to improve

Besides these enthusiasts, the Indian market clearly has had a shift from poor consideration to room acoustics to some sort of a medium standard.

“Many architects and specifiers now consider acoustics as an important function, and some of these priorities have been laid straight for their projects. This is half battle won already, and now we need more determined efforts to enhance national standards and guidelines as well, with the help of local government authorities”, Manit explains.

Manit points out that the dense situation in India means that the effect of acoustic improvements is even bigger than elsewhere.

“The net benefit in India is much better than most other places as good acoustic treatment also has a lot of psychological impact. When a specific measure will bring down the sound level by six decibels in a given room, you might get a net effect of even ten decibels sometimes, because people will automatically lower their voices. This insight has been a big push to the market during the last few years.”

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Gone are the days when it used to take a couple of years for design innovations to become acceptable in India; now the adaptability is quick and at real-time basis compared to the West.

Agile software drives the market

The office designs in India are quite innovative with both localised concepts and following international trends. The open office concept is widely pursued and the concept of activity-based design is picked up well, although with many names and variants: collaborative office design, co-working culture and not least agile work environment.

The background here is that, the major portion of Indian office segment expansion is within the IT, ITES (IT Enabled Services) and BFSI (Banking, financial services and insurance) sectors, which to a high degree is shifting to an agile working culture. This trend demands changes in the interior office design to become more adaptive and dynamic.

“Room designs were required to be re-looked upon so that multi-purpose spaces can exist. What appears to be an informal area can suddenly happen to be a video-conferencing space with an end client and vice versa. “

This leads to changes in the acoustic design as well – from suspended modular ceiling systems to free hanging acoustic clouds and acoustic baffles to mention a few solutions.

“We have gone through an evolution process in India similar to that of Western Europe and US as well, and it still continues with every new office design. Gone are the days when it used to take a couple of years for design innovations to become acceptable in India; now the adaptability is quick and at real-time basis compared to the West.“

Learn more: Take part of Manit Ramaiya’s TEDx-talk

Manit Ramaiya recently did an appraised TEDx-talk where he described and explained the four most important dimensions of sound quality:

  • Sound pressure (decibel).
  • Speech clarity (early and late reflections of sounds).
  • Sound propagation (the spread of sound from one place to another).
  • Reverberance (the time of sound decaying).

“I did some sound experiments that really surprised the audience and, for which I am sure, will be an ear-opener even for viewers of the video. It is powerful to use sounds as examples and not only talk about it in abstract terms.”

Experience yourself the differences in decibel levels and the fascinating effect of noise on our memory. You will be stunned!

Towards the end Manit’s talk also covers an international research on how acoustic improvements affect workers’ health, productivity and the perceived disturbance plus some interesting architectural trends which can have an impact on the acoustic quality.

 

Text: Lars Wirtén