Erwan Bouroullec discusses the importance of acoustic intimacy

PARIS – Tyler Adams, the author of the soon-to-be-released new book Sound Materials, caught up with Erwan Bouroullec recently to discuss how the designer approaches the matter of acoustics.


TA: Your first project dealing with acoustics was the North Tiles (2006) designed for Kvadrat. Were acoustics your design intent or simply a byproduct?
EB: Kvadrat wanted us to design a showroom and since Kvadrat is a textile company, we started to think about making walls out of textiles or creating something that was in-between a curtain and a structural wall. Step by step we approached this tile concept which is a kind of sandwich of textile, foam, and textile again. So we built the showroom walls out of these tiles, which were also hanging from the ceiling and interconnected to one another.

We knew that it would probably have a positive effect on sound, but it was not the initial intent and we never studied with engineers or anything like that. The day of the opening, there was another showroom next door which had the same spatial volume and as soon as you entered the Kvadrat showroom, it was like you had changed all of the parameters on the amplifier and everything was softer and better.

In 2009 you launched Clouds. Was this an extension of the North Tiles project?
Well, it was kind of simple – the North Tile was way too expensive in the end. People are using Clouds a little bit like putting in some plants – it’s more of free element that can be quite small, it doesn’t need to be wide and spread out.

You introduced the Alcove sofa the same year as the North Tiles. These works seem to initiate a theme in your work of carving intimate spaces from a larger public space. It’s not simply visual though, the work also creates acoustic intimacy.
Regarding the Alcove sofa made for Vitra, it’s the very first sofa with raised walls for contemporary times. Of course this has been in history, you can always find a sofa like this, but this one is really the first recent one that is made for intimacy, for people to sit inside and disappear within an open space.

I think the real opportunity with acoustics is the ability to change the manner or comportment of people. Behind the shape, behind the language of the material, behind everything, we try to provoke a certain gentleman attitude which has a lot to do with sound in general. Design is super important to make you behave properly. The more you can in a way temper your comportment, the better it will be for the overall sound environment.

We met some Swiss police who told us they had been buying Alcove sofas to debrief victims that were under stress because they found that this kind of sofa, the kind of environment it creates, is much quieter for them and helps the victims open up. I think that our design practice tries to create environments that give solutions to people with which there is a certain dignity.

Your Workbay series is another example of spatial subdivision. Is this design a response to the current trends in open-plan office environments, which seem to privilege transparency, density and openness in favour of privacy?
Well, it’s really a complement to open space, which is a dynamic space, but inside the open space you need enclosure. A lot of companies work in open spaces because they may not have the resources to create all of these rooms. It’s much quicker to have an open space and then all of the spatial organisation can be made with furnishings. We are product designers so most of the time what we create is based on the idea of the object of furniture. So while furniture doesn’t really belong to the space, it is mobile and can be positioned as you like.

Photography courtesy of Tyler Adams.


This is an extract from our forthcoming new title Sound Materials which details over 100 sound absorbing materials for architectural and design applications. From 1 November, this book is available to pre-order at 20% discount, exclusively via our website here:


Liked this article?
We've got more for you

Sign up to our newsletter for weekly updates. Or view the archive.