With sustainability and carbon neutrality playing such crucial roles in current building design, it should be no surprise that new and innovative materials continue to rise to prominence. But while bamboo flooring and solar-paneled roofs have only now become mainstream, one traditional building material still symbolizes the cornerstone of sustainability: wood.

One of the reasons wood remains in constant use beyond its practical use as a building material is the human emotional association to wood. Since wood is a natural material, people have a robust biological connection, thanks to the phenomenon described as biophilia. Biophilia is the design concept/physiological theory that humans are inherently connected to nature, thriving among natural materials such as plants, wood, and stone.

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SoundStar® ceiling baffles with Custom Delta Drop® and Soft Sound® surfacing by Arktura welcome patients in the lobby of a One Medical building designed by Callison RTKL in Chicago. Photo by Wade Trenbeath Productions Photography

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The criss-cross effect of Arktura’s SoftFold® creates motion in any space, as seen here at PRB The Towers in Cupertino, CA. Photo by Bernardo Grijalva Photography

There is something to be said about the warmth and good-natured feeling one gets from entering a wood-clad space, whether that’s an old rustic log cabin or a new mass timber construction. One is enveloped by an immediate sense of welcome through the inviting nature of wood. This feeling has psychological benefits as well, including reduced stress, a drop in blood pressure, and overall mental and physical well-being. Wood can also help calm and focus people, making it great for commercial applications like offices and schools. Biophilic elements like wood are essential in denser urban areas where people have less access to open nature in their daily lives.

PET: The Perfect Middle Ground

In recent decades commercial development has become a more streamlined and cost-effective endeavor. While this has its advantages to the builder team, there is something to be said about lost decorative touches that have fallen by the wayside in favor of more uniform and minimalist floorplans. Case in point: decorative ceilings.

Often referred to as the fifth wall, ceilings play a crucial role in a room’s overall design. With many flat and simple contemporary ceilings, nothing draws the eye upward to appreciate the whole look of a room. While some more minor touchups can address this with trim and molding, for the most part, ceilings are left bare.

A common application for wood on interior projects is in beam, baffle, and coffer ceilings. While using wood in these ceiling applications can supply the desired aesthetic and function, they can be costly systems to procure and install. Thankfully today there are more cost-effective alternatives to using real lumber trellises that provide the same great aesthetics along with additional performance benefits.

Materials like felt wool and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) can offer superior acoustical performance to wood and at a fraction of the cost, weight, and environmental impact. PET has become an invaluable tool in building toward a more sustainable future. This super recyclable polymer is made of the same material as a typical plastic water bottle, but this super plastic has practical applications ranging from packaging to electronics, high-performance fabrics, and even Arktura acoustical products. Compared to wood, PET is lighter, fire-resistant, and above all else, includes acoustic absorptive properties not found in wood.

Coffered ceilings are sections of the ceiling raised or recessed into a grid-like pattern. Installing a trellis in ceilings is achieved by intersecting beams on a ceiling into a grid pattern. Usually made of wood, these decorative beams crisscross to create a square or rectangle design, with more ornate grids of hexagons and octagons also a choice. Initially found in ancient Greek and Roman buildings, coffered ceilings seem to be having quite the renaissance now. Because they offer both form and function, coffered ceilings have stood the test of time.

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The wood finishes of Arktura’s SoftSpan® 48A acoustic grid create a warm and inviting feeling. Photo courtesy of Arktura

Coffered ceilings are an excellent alternative for those looking to add a layer of depth to a room as they can enlarge a space by making the ceiling appear higher than it is. This technique not only adds an illusion of visual impact to a room but can also be used to create focal points, segment a room, or even lengthen a room.

Not only do these perpendicular beams look great, but Arktura’s version, made of PET, also supplies acoustic advantages. For large areas with these trellis systems in place, sounds reverberate upward and are absorbed by the coffers, creating a calm and serene environment. This method is excellent for keeping sound in one area without traveling to other home or office areas. It’s perfect for commercial use if your office has an open floor plan with clusters of desks or breakout areas. You can apply this same principle to residential homes with open concepts, key in areas like kitchens or entertainment spaces.

Arktura’s SoftSpan® system of acoustic trellis systems fit the need for alternative material ceilings utilizing Soft Sound® acoustical material. This award-winning collection features an innovative acoustic baffle arrangement that delivers the look of coffered ceilings or large timber trellises without the weight, all while reducing the impact of noise across any interior space. SoftSpan is available in an array of finishes and materials for traditionalists, including a lineup of Soft Sound Wood Textures to replicate the character and warmth of timber ceiling trellises. Creating innovative product lines with carbon neutrality in mind is just one of the ways in which Arktura is leading the way to a more sustainable built environment for the future.

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The biophilic advantages of wood finishes have many commercial applications. Seen here, SoftSpan and SoundBar® by Arktura. Photo courtesy of Arktura

The SoftSpan system is available in various sizes and spacings to fit any project’s needs. Recent winner of 2021’s Architectural Record’s “Best in Category” honor, this versatile collection bridges the gap between the allure and benefits of natural wood and the green appeal of PET by combining excellent sound absorption and classically good looks. The coffered ceiling system of the future is also about to get a new upgrade with newfound connectivity to Arktura’s SoundBar® lineup of acoustic and lighting baffle systems.

The upcoming upgrades to SoftSpan and SoundBar® will allow designers and architects a new world of possibilities with near-endless configurations and creative layouts. The grid system of SoftSpan and the linear baffles of SoundBar will connect seamlessly, with both collections made of Arktura’s high-performance acoustic Soft Sound material. This new connectivity will also bring new lighting options for SoftSpan with both inline and backlighting options available.

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Not only do the waves of Atmosphera® Swell by Arktura look great here at Iron Whale Asbury in Asbury Park, they are also made of SoftSound material to help absorb excess noise. Designed by TSG Design. Photo by Megan Lawrence

Arktura also offers the biophilic waves of Atmosphera® and slightly avant-garde SoftGrid® ceiling panels for more contemporary takes on the timber trellis system. It’s no wonder that these Arktura products will become the future of coffered ceilings and timber trellis systems.

A Practical Case for PET

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The upcoming update to SoftSpan and SoundBar will allow designers and architects to create never before seen configurations to provide both acoustic wellness and illumination. Photo courtesy of Arktura

Coffered ceilings or timber trellis systems made of alternative materials such as PET, like those found in Arktura’s lineup of acoustic products, are a great way to carry the tradition of this historic look with a modern flair. The SoftSpan system of PET SoftSound material provides a lightweight, contemporary, customizable, and easy to install version of this look with all the great acoustic properties you have come to expect from industry leaders Arktura.

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