Noise hindrance and acoustics the ignored key issue

Noise hindrance and acoustics had been identified as an important issue right from the beginning. Relevant buildings with open offices were visited in the country and abroad. On January 5th, 1994, the board of directors of VPRO paid a visit to the open office spaces of the headquarters of the insurance company Centraal Beheer in Apeldoorn. Their reaction was: reserved enthusiasm. This was, however, interpreted as 'quite well' in the minutes of the design team meeting of January 6th, 1994.

In the minutes of the next meeting it is noted: 'Acoustics are extremely important: people are busy, lots of walking, talking and telephone conversations.' In the steering committee of February 10th, 1994 the architects of MVRDV present a note: 'Noise absorption inside the building' in which they write: 'Conclusion: noise absorption is solvable with 60% mats (on the floor), with furniture and with curtains.'

The VPRO organisation, however, was not convinced and decided to conduct a test. In the existing villa's, ten new lodgings were commissioned with openings instead of doors. The reaction of the personnel concerned was negative. The minutes of the steering committee meeting of September 8th, 1994

Figure 8.7 Sun protection propositions
Figure B.B Integration ventilation and heating into floors

Figure 8.9 The same working areas before and after modification by users: cupboards and curtains, closed working units with separate ventilation system mention: 'Walls: the highest floor of the new villa had loose walls without doors. This evoked quite some resistance from the personnel. They indicated to prefer a door to protect one's own working place, even if that door would be open most of the time!'. That was the last time reference was made to the test. Clearly, the open space concept goes a lot further, for not only the doors are left out but also the walls.

Immediately after the commissioning of the building in June 1997, a stream of serious complaints from the users about noise and lack of privacy began. Employees started to correct the situation right away by building their own 'walls' with cupboards, boxes and curtains (Fig. 8.9). Some employees started working at home to avoid the disturbances and distractions at their official work location.

As the stream of complaints continued, a meeting between architects and personnel was arranged on October 2nd, 1999. The meeting was organised as a Symposium under the title 'Working in a piece of art: architects contra

Figure 8.10 The building exterior (a) and the building interior modified by users (b)

users or users contra architects.' This confrontation between architects, or rather artists, and users did not generate any solutions to the serious problems raised by the users. The architects persisted in their view that the design reflected the practical requirements of the users, who in turn maintained that quite the opposite was true (Paans, 2000). At the time of writing, the issue is still unresolved (Fig. 8.10).

The fact that the key issue of noise and acoustics - and to a certain extent also the lack of privacy - was largely ignored and played down during the design phase of the project was not just a coincidence. The ambition of realising a daring architectural concept brought with it that anything that could kill it was taboo: undiscussable because of too painful consequences.

The architects could not ignore the other four key issues. Fire protection and escape routes concern personal safety with which no one is prepared to compromise. Daylight distribution and sun protection affect the very nature of the work of an architect: playing with space and light. Installations for heating and ventilation simply cannot be left out.

Noise hindrance and privacy, by contrast, do not affect safety and are subjective in the sense that different individuals perceive them differently. They are, therefore, linked to the mission and culture of the organisation concerned. It is quite possible that the building would have been suited for a software development company or for a library. For a broadcasting organisation it is definitely not, as is illustrated by the following comments from users:

• As a clubhouse or factory it is quite good, but thinking for a moment from time to time, having an undisturbed telephone conversation or writing an article, is not possible.

• Building is beautiful, but old-fashioned. No flexible workplaces; every one chained to his or her workstation.

• The building has changed our way of working. In-depth research is hard

Table 8.3 Application of best practices in the VPRO office



1. Goal setting

fixed vs. floating


2. Leadership

boss focused vs. stakeholder focused


3. Conflict resolution

compromise vs. synthesis


9. Co-ordination of tasks

project manager's co-ordination vs. mutual adjustment


10. Standardisation

where possible vs. where functional


to sustain over longer periods of time. When I have complicated telephone calls, I am exhausted after three hours. One gets a constant input of impressions from which one cannot shut oneself off. The depth of the work is being undermined. That is alarming, for it affects the quality of our programmes. In addition, it should be noted that little flexibility is provided for future organisational changes. For instance, the trend is to work increasingly with multimedia: TV, radio, digital, guide and to organise units, also physically, according to subject.

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