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Enjoy the silence

Most of interior designers are visualizers, focusing only on visual aspects of their projects. However, it is important to remember that not only the sense of sight, but also the hearing sense has a major impact on how we feel in the interior. Bearing in mind the latter, one can build a profitable design company that focuses on acoustic comfort.

About acoustic comfort in interiors, awareness of this matter among designers, not always fulfilled promises concerning acoustics made by interior design companies, and about the “selling silence” trend, I talk to Paweł Sumiński, the founder of Fluffo brand that offers acoustic panels for residential and office spaces.

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Paweł Sumiński (on the right), founder of Fluffo brand at Łódź Design Festival 2016. Photography by TrendNomad.com

TrendNomad.com: What percentage of Polish interior designers do take into account acoustics while choosing furniture and materials for their residential projects?
Paweł Sumiński: Just a small percentage of them do that. Designers specialized in residential projects don’t think that often about acoustic comfort. Their goal is to design an interior that looks good. They usually forget about the sense of hearing.

When one move into a new, an interior-magazine-looking place, soon he or she starts complaining about reverberation. Listening to music or watching television in such place is a torture. There is nothing to muffle sound waves. Echoing sounds disturb householders.

When the project of an interior is finished, an interior designer would not admit that he or she hadn’t thought about acoustics. Usually, irritated private clients must find proper acoustic solutions by themselves. Some of them visit our website and order Fluffo sound absorbing panels. We do what was not done by an interior designer.

At Fluffo, more than 50 percent of orders come from clients with residential spaces designed by interior designers that create acoustic torture chambers.

Do interior designers specialized in office spaces have more knowledge about acoustics?
Yes, definitely. Experienced interior designers usually take acoustic aspects into account right from the beginning of their work. But even here one can make many mistakes. Recently we made a project for a stonemasonry company. All the floors and walls in its new headquarters were covered with a stone, while dividers standing between desks were made of glass. The reverberation was so vexatious, that people couldn’t work in this place.

Keeping offices and public buildings in mind, at the turn of Summer and Fall 2016 we expanded our offer with flame retardant sound absorbing  acoustic panels.

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At the design fairs, one can notice that more and more furniture companies present their own solutions of how to improve acoustics in an interior. Do they all work the same?
Not every item that is sold as an acoustic solution, can absorb unwanted sounds. Luckily, you don’t have to be a sound expert to be able to recognize empty marketing promises. Distinguishing good and bad acoustic products is quite easy.

If you can blow air into the item and the object absorbs it, then you can be sure that it absorbs noise as well. Otherwise, the item won’t work the way we need.

Items that are sold as acoustics, but made from hard, non-porous materials, e.g. MDF boards, even when are covered with a soft material, won’t absorb the sounds well. Instead, they will bounce them. It’s a waste of money.

What materials do you use to manufacture Fluffo products?
Our acoustic panels designed for residential interiors are made of soft polyurethane foam. Fluffo products dedicated for offices are made of compressed mineral wool. In both cases, raw panels are delivered to us in cut pieces. We cover them with the soft, nice in touch layer of synthetic fiber. We call it Fluffo structure.

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Fluffo structure is made of a flock, synthetic fibers 1 mm long. Photography by TrendNomad.com

Fluffo structure is the same polyamide – so called flock – that we can find in premium class cars, where it is used to cover armrests and glove compartment. While covering flat objects with glue and flock is easy and can be done automatically by machines, covering three-dimensional Fluffo panels is much more difficult and has to be done manually.

There are only a few people in Poland that know exactly how to do this right. We are one of few companies that are able to perfectly cover a three-dimensional foam with the flock. It cost me a lot of time and tears to find the right way of covering three-dimensional objects with the flock.

You did it by yourself?
Yes, completely by myself, with trial and error method. The brand and products are my ideas too. In 2013, just after the start of the company, first panels ordered by clients were produced with my own hands. I was responsible for production, packaging, shipping, marketing, and sales.

Did you also create the color palette?
No. Color palette was created by Agnieszka Kamont. She is an interior designer experienced with dye technics. Her father runs a company that produces plastics. Two years ago she gave us a recipe for powder rose color, as she needed it for one of her clients. She impressed me with her knowledge so I asked her to create the entire Fluffo color palette.

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Fluffo panels for private interiors are available in 19 different shapes. Some of them have four different thickness. Foam’s thickness and number of chosen colors don’t affect the price. Photography by TrendNomad.com

Do acoustic panels cut us from sounds coming from our neighbours?
Wall, floor and desk panels made of foam can turn down noise, improving acoustic comfort in the space, but won’t cut us out from the sounds coming from our surrounding. For an acoustic isolation, we need much more dense and heavy materials than a foam. We don’t have those in our offer. Maybe it will change in the future.

It’s worth mentioning that sounds from our neighbors come not only through the walls but often they use so-called acoustic bridges that are hidden in our ceilings, floors and ventilation ducts. To cut an interior space from all the coming sounds, you would need to cover the entire space with an insulating material. But you should keep in mind that a building needs to breathe.

Semi thick foam is perfect to muffle high and middle tones. In spaces covered with an acoustic foam, you can hear bass sounds over sopranos.

The demand for products that improve acoustics at home will increase. It’s a very strong trend.
In 2013, when I established Fluffo, acoustics wasn’t that popular subject as it is today. I wasn’t sure if my idea will work, but I still wanted to risk. My marketing background and the fact that I like physical work were very helpful.

My initial idea was about soft walls with decorative character. I thought that emotions followed by “hug the wall” slogan will be enough to find clients. But the true is that the expertise about acoustic properties of Fluffo panels done in Acoustic Lab at The Building Research Institute in Warsaw, and positioning Fluffo panels on the market as an acoustic product for interiors determined the success.

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Photography by TrendNomad.com

Now I hire the team of 10 people. In September, we moved to the new office. The production hall located near Warsaw has over 500 square meters. The previous one had only 120 square meters. Now I can say it loudly: we made it! And more and more people will hear about us.

 

If you have any questions regarding Fluffo acoustic panels, you can direct them to Paweł Sumiński at pawel.suminski@fluffo.pl.

Fluffo was one of the exhibitors at Łódź Design Festival. The 10th edition of the biggest design festival in Poland run in Łódź on Oct. 13th-23rd under the banner of “Identity”. You can find more pictures and videos from this event on my Instagram profile.

Top photography by Grzegorz Sobolewski.

Do you find this interview interesting? Then buy me a coffee! Wherever you are, you can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will help me to finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my website. Just click the rectangular button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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The green facade means the green energy

One of the elements of the exhibition “Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design” held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and presenting the most important projects realized so far by global company Arup, is the SolarLeaf photobioreactor. The green, living facade of a building that produces microalgae and thermal energy, has left far behind all the other products, prototypes, and concepts presented at this year’s London Design Festival.

SolarLeaf is a photobioreactor (PBR) to be used as a facade of a building. Its role is to produce heat energy and microalgae. The construction of the SolarLeaf panel is quite simple: it is comprised of four glass layers. The outer ones form argon-filled insulation barriers that prevent heat loss.

The inner two glass layers form the 24-litre cavity that holds drinking water (culture medium) and green microalgae. Like other plants, microalgae – single-celled organisms, no larger than bacteria – draw on sunlight as an energy source and use it, together with CO2 and the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, to build up biomass in the photosynthesis process. This is is a pure source of renewable energy.

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SolarLeaf green panels are the part of the exhibition “Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design” held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Photography by TrendNomad.com

Inside the photobioreactors, microalgae are continuously supplied with liquid nutrients and carbon dioxide via a separate water circuit running through the façade of a building. In the result, microalgae can divide themselves up to two times a day and thus increase their biomass by a factor of four. Their biomass contains 23-27 kJ of energy per gram dry weight.

To avoid the microalgae sinking and remaining in suspension, the culture medium is continuously stirred by the supply of compressed air into the PBR – it works through an airlift. The high flow velocities along the inner surfaces of the bioreactor, and the lattice-like beads (scrapers) enclosed within it, inhibit the deposition of microalgae and biopollution.

At the same time, the façade collects energy by absorbing the light that is not used by the microalgae and generating heat, like in a solar thermal unit.

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The BIQ residential building erected in Hamburg in 2013 is the first building in the world to have a bioreactor facade. The microalgae are cultivated in flat panel glass photobioreactors measuring 250 x 70 x 8 cm. In total, 129 modules arranged in groups have been installed on the south west and south east faces of the residential building. Picture by IBA Hamburg GmbH/Bernadette Grimmenstein

The biomass and heat generated by the façade of the BIQ building are transported to the heart of the system – the plant room, which is a fully automated energy management center, where solar thermal heat and algae are harvested. The heat energy produced is directly available to the house and is distributed for various uses: heating, and preheating of hot water. Excess heat energy is stored in borehole heat exchangers (80 metre-deep holes filled with brine), from which energy is drawn with heat pumps as required.

The biomass resulting from the growth of the algae is automatically harvested through an algae separator and collected in a temperature-controlled container. After the separation, most of the culture medium is returned to the PBR. Only a small amount of the culture medium is removed from the system and discharged via a drainage arrangement into the public sewer.

Erstbefuellung und Vorstellung des Algenhauses (BIQ) mit der IBA Hamburg GmbH
Photography by IBA-Hamburg GmbH/Johannes Arlt

Harvested biomass is removed to a biogas plant, where it is conversed into methane. The conversion of biomass to methane is not done on site, because the necessary technology is not yet ready for use in residential buildings, or is difficult from a legal point of view. Instead, it is carried out externally in a biogas plant.

The advantage of biomass is that it can be used flexibly for power and heat generation, and it can be easily stored with virtually no energy loss, as well as it doesn’t require expensive storage technologies like batteries.

Moreover, cultivating microalgae in flat panel PBRs requires no additional land-use and isn’t unduly affected by weather conditions – the system can be operated all year long. The temperature in the PBR is kept constantly below 40°C in the summer and above about 5°C in the winter.

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Compared with soil-grown plants, algae produce up to five times as much biomass per hectare. Depending on the season and requirements, the algae can be used in different ways according to demand. It can be converted into heat in winter and, in the summer months when growth is highest, this biomass can be used as raw material for cosmetic and pharmaceutical products or is used for animal food or dietary supplements. Photography by TrendNomad.com

The approx. 200 square meter main algae façade comes with a net annual energy yield of about 4500 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is somewhat more than an average household consumes in a year (3500 kilowatt-hours per year). In the BIQ building, there are 15 apartments, so only one of them could in principle be completely supplied with electricity from the bioreactors.

However, a much larger proportion of the apartments can be provided with heat, hence the bioreactor façades are used for heat generation (6000 kilowatt-hours per year) and not for producing electricity. This corresponds approximately to the supply of four apartments with heat, from the bioreactors alone. That means SolarLeaf provides around one-third of the total heat demand of the 15 residential units in the BIQ house.

Beyond residential architecture, the SolarLeaf photobioreactor façade system is suitable for a variety of different types of both new and existing buildings: industrial and commercial constructions, buildings for public infrastructure and trade.

The SolarLeaf façade system is the result of three years of research and development by Colt International based on a bio-reactor concept developed by Strategic Science Consult of Germany (SSC Ltd) and design work led by Arup.

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Photography by TrendNomad.com

The exhibition “Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design” can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London until 6 November. Photos and videos of many other projects presented at the London Design Festival, which ran from 17 to 25 September, are available on my Instagram profile.

Main picture by IBA-Hamburg GmbH/Johannes Arlt.

Do you find this article interesting? Then buy me a coffee! Wherever you are, you can donate a small sum of money using your PayPal account or credit card. All donations will help me to finance my journeys to fairs, festivals and conferences devoted to design and new technology – this is where I find news for my website. Just click the rectangular button below to perform a secure transaction. Thank you for your support, it will help me to take a step forward and write new posts.

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