According to a forecast from the Office of National Statistics, the UK population is expected to double to 131 million within a century. This increase will put added pressure on the education sector, and with space at a premium, it is more important than ever to design buildings that are fit for purpose.
Unwanted noise is a big issue in schools and colleges, with acoustics often being one of the most difficult balancing acts for multi-purpose spaces in education establishments. Building Bulletin 93: Acoustic Design of Schools sets out performance targets for compliance with building regulations and states that: “Each room or other space in a school building shall have the acoustic conditions and the insulation against disturbance by noise appropriate to its normal use.”
Depending on its range of uses, an education building may need to fulfil a number of different purposes. For instance, a school hall space may also need to accommodate dramatic productions or presentations and be capable of handling microphones and public address systems. In areas like this, as well as in common areas such as classrooms or corridors, it is important that floor coverings contribute to good acoustic design.
Studies into the impact of high noise levels in educational facilities have shown that poor acoustics can have a detrimental effect on learning. One study by researchers from the Institute of Education and the Institute of Acoustics took two age groups of secondary school pupils and exposed them to high and low levels of noise in the classroom. Tests on their memory, numeracy and reading skills showed that, in noisy conditions, 14-16-year-olds performed no better than 11-13-year-olds did in the quiet.
Carpet is well suited to these facilities as it helps to produce a calm and peaceful learning atmosphere due to its ability to absorb impact noise. Conversations need to be heard clearly in educational settings, so the environment cannot be too absorbent or reverberant. Carpet tiles are a particularly effective option for such applications, as they muffle reverberant sound to the benefit of the hard-of-hearing.
It is also important to remember that learning environments must be stimulating. Using bright colours benefits learning by providing a positive environment which helps to engage students, increasing their concentration and productivity. As a result, there is currently a strong trend in flooring for mid to dark tones of grey being used alongside bright accent colours.
Colour and design are often applied to emphasise different zones within a school, college or university. Specific zones, such as breakout areas and walkways, can be emphasised with different carpet designs and colours. This ‘zoning process’ helps to clearly define and differentiate these areas and can help to create an accessible environment by assisting with navigation and circulation.
Another benefit of emphasising specific areas of flooring, such as walkways, is that it becomes easier to achieve visual contrast. Visual contrast is essential for helping visually impaired people to navigate a building and is achieved using light reflectance values (LRVs), which indicate the amount of light reflected by a surface. The use of contrasting colours on adjacent surfaces such as floors and walls can help pupils and staff with visual impairments to gauge the layout of a room while also indicating any change in floor level.
Flooring is fundamental in helping to provide suitable learning environments. It is clear that carpets can play a critical role in reducing noise levels, stimulating students and helping to assist with navigation. In turn, these factors help to provide a calm, comfortable educational establishment, where pupils can learn in optimum conditions.
Karen Burman is product manager at Gradus