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Fight horrible open office noise with these gorgeous acoustic panels

These sound absorption tiles use algorithms to translate images into felt material designed to absorb unwanted office sound.

Fight horrible open office noise with these gorgeous acoustic panels
[Photo: courtesy of Turf]

As pandemic restrictions lift and workers return to the office, many are quickly being reminded of one big downside to many open office environments: the noise.

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Office noise like typing and chewing has been found to increase people’s stress levels and simply put them in a bad mood. To try to alleviate those annoying sounds without filling offices with bland or obtrusive sound-absorbing materials, the Chicago acoustics company Turf Design has developed a new line of acoustic panels designed to look like actual art.

Made from a sound-absorbing synthetic felt material, Turf’s panels, called Scanlines, are made from preexisting images, including photos, art work, or corporate logos and designs. The company’s custom algorithms transform images into black and white, then translate the intensity of that light or darkness at various points in the image into incisions in the felt.

[Photo: courtesy of Turf]
“Because it’s a lightweight and porous material, it’s very good at sound absorption,” says Dustin Headley, Turf’s director of product development.

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The felt panels are made with 2 layers, with 12 color options for the top layer and 30 for the bottom layer. That means the cuts allow a two-color image to show through, with the top or bottom layer appearing more intensely where the image is more light or dark.

The panels are designed to be viewed from relatively far away, so they’re better suited for walls in echoey office environments than for narrow hallways. High-contrast images, including those that might be at home in pop art or a comic book, are most cleanly visible, Headley explains. Scanlines takes its name from the lines of images on old television sets, and the project is inspired by how they were used artistically in classic science fiction movies like Blade Runner.

[Photo: courtesy of Turf]
Some images also do require a little tweaking in Photoshop before they’re ready to be inscribed into panels, but once the process gets going, it only takes about 45 minutes for a computerized cutting machine to finish a 4-by-10-foot panel. Pricing for customers varies based on the whole package they have with Turf, but it generally runs between $20 and $30 per square foot. Headley says he hypothesizes that the incisions might boost the material’s sound-absorbing power by increasing its surface area, though that hasn’t been rigorously tested.

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Scanlines isn’t the company’s only new development in attractive sound-absorption paneling: Turf also recently unveiled what it calls Turf Textures, which are felt panels printed with a convincing-looking wood grain, generated digitally from mathematical noise. The customizability of Scanlines could make it suitable for many companies looking to maintain consistent branding in their spaces.

That will hopefully help incentivize employers to mute some of the noise that workers find so irritating and distracting in office environments—particularly important at a time when many would prefer to continue working from the peace and quiet of their homes forever.

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About the author

Steven Melendez is an independent journalist living in New Orleans.

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