The Future of Urban Sound Planning

Our relationship with sound in urban environments provokes both positive and negative reactions. How do we go from the idea that noise is a source of annoyance requiring mitigation to a place where we can consider sound as a positive feature of our cities that can be designed?

On Wednesday this week, Anderson Acoustics were delighted to sponsor the much-anticipated RSA Brighton event on urban sound planning, alongside our friends at the Noise Abatement Society and Driftwood Productions.

The event brought together a large and diverse crowd to discuss the forms in which soundscapes interact with city spaces, how they can benefit health and wellbeing, as well as the challenges faced by multidisciplinary teams to begin considering sound in the same way as they already consider the visual aesthetic.

After the event, our Managing Director Andy Knowles said, “We are proud to have sponsored this RSA event in Brighton – a city which leads the way in improving public spaces through soundscape design.

“We passionately believe that designing for soundscape and sound quality can build better places to live, work and play. It’s crucial to consider sound in design, not just for cities but for all of the places in which we live, learn, work, relax and have fun.

“More attention needs to be given to ensure that sound is as good as it can be, rather than just the minimum required to comply with regulation or worse still, when sound isn’t even considered at all.”

The evening started with a keynote from Julian Treasure, who presented a wide range of sounds in a fascinating talk about our relationship with sound – our fundamental sense – and how all too often, sound is not given sufficient consideration. He highlighted that sound profoundly affects the body and mind, our ability to concentrate our health and our behaviour.

Simon Bannister, who manages Public Realm at Brighton and Hove City Council, explained how soundscape interventions can be used to improve public spaces by making people feel safer and happier. The West Street Tunnel trial and Sounding Brighton series of sonic artworks showed that the right sounds can reduce anti-social behaviour in urban environments. He also referenced the wider Sonorus Project, demonstrating how planning of the sonic environment of our cities in a holistic way can support both wellbeing and health of the people living there.

Donna Close (Brighton University and AMP Culture) followed on from Simon to show in more detail how art and sound can transform the city through the public realm-curated annual art event, White Night.

Dr Harry Witchel, from Brighton & Sussex Medical School, continued the theme of sound and behaviour and explained how sound is not just about the decibel, but about its content and also how it is perceived subconsciously. He gave a great example of how one study in Brighton looked at sound and behaviour, resulting in some cases of larger donations to charity collectors and people spontaneously starting to waltz depending on the music they heard. A variety of interesting sounds were presented to the audience, some pleasant and some very unpleasant…

Our Managing Director, Andy Knowles, made the case for sounder cities – cities that consider sound as a key design element – and how a multidisciplinary approach can lead to the creation of cities that are more people-focussed and can improve our wellbeing. Andy spoke of the work that Anderson Acoustics does to promote more positive soundscapes for all of the buildings, places and spaces that we inhabit throughout our lives.

Cara Courage highlighted the idea that sounds are fundamental to placemaking and how important sounds are in the formation of memories. She promoted the idea that people should be able to engage with designers and policy-makers to help design the urban realm and explained the concepts of sound foraging and sensory urbanism.

Evan Reinhold gave a presentation about his urban sound art installations, running through his thought processes in creating ideas that focus on people’s experience of senses and how they contribute to urban sustainability.

Finally, John Drever and Emmanuel Spinelli really got the audience engaged with how context can transform the sound you are listening to and take you to another place. Being purely subjective and contextual, we all experience sounds differently, therefore really focussing on the importance of the design element of acoustic design.

The evening was an enjoyable and interesting study of our relationship with sound and the role of sound in urban placemaking. The talks and Q&A concluded with the aim of forging stronger and greater relationships with urban planners.

Many thanks to Lisa Lavia and all of the team at RSA Brighton for a great evening.

Anderson Acoustics supports architects, urban planners and policy makers to inform and shape urban realm design decisions, creating solutions that improve and enhance the sound of our ever-evolving cities. Using our SonicRoom and advanced acoustic modelling tools, we can create a listening experience (auralisation) to demonstrate the sound of a space or environment before it has been built. Read more about our work on soundscape design here.

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