Noise was among the most contested issues in the large open offices that proliferated after World War II in Europe and North America. The “landscape” offices that developed out of the German Bürolandschaft movement were known for large floor plates filled with misaligned desks. They were meant to improve employees’ communication, but their acoustic design prompted worker anxieties about distraction and diminishing privacy. While early remediation efforts sought to quiet offices, in the 1960s designers began adding random, unintelligible noise to mask distractions and arranging employees according to their expected sound levels. This shift from eliminating noise to embracing it as a space-defining element reflected a powerful new acoustic paradigm. The Bürolandschaft movement waned in the 1970s, but the judicious spatial deployment of noise remains an invaluable technique as designers consider how architecture can help or hinder communication and collective intellectual activity.

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