How would you like your city to sound?

Soundscapes and sound planning is an emerging discipline that encourages us to consider sound as a key design element, in a world currently dominated by the visual aesthetic.

We were thrilled to host an interactive workshop on the importance of sound for Placemaking and wellbeing in the built environment, as part of Green Sky Thinking Week 2018.

The event was hosted by Anderson Acoustics’ Grant Waters, our soundscapes lead, at Aluk Design Studio, London on Monday 14th May.

After an introduction by Grant on the importance of soundscapes in our cities and how it affects us, we heard from two of our three speakers about this emerging discipline and its complexities.

John Drever, Professor of Acoustic Ecology and Sound Art at Goldsmiths University, discussed how sound has to be understood in the context of our cities. It’s not just about good and bad, positive sounds and noise he explained – it’s all dependent on our perception and the environment we’re in. We listened to six sound samples and were asked to judge where they were recorded. The diverse sounds included dawn chorus birdsong, buskers playing music, partygoers shouting and construction workers cutting through the pavement. The audience broadly felt that they were recorded in drastically contrasting locations and we had mixed feelings about them, but in fact, they were all recorded from John’s front room window!

Lisa Lavia, director of the Noise Abatement Society presented on how the practice of soundscapes is being integrated within policy, describing the Standard for measuring and assessing a soundscape – as well as how it’s evolving into practical solutions. She emphasised how soundscape planning is not just about the reduction of sound levels, but is also about taking an interdisciplinary approach to city-making, where sound is carefully considered to promote a sense of place and wellbeing.

Grant then discussed how considering the soundscape at the beginning of a project can promote more positive city spaces, promoting wellbeing and health. Anderson Acoustics is exploring various ways of integrating this approach into our projects, including support for the Tranquil City project and promotion of our soundscape listening suite, SonicRoom™.

Our final speaker, Ian Thomson Senior, Lecturer in Creative Professions and Digital Arts at Greenwich University, presented his sonic composition ‘Arrival Time’. The piece is an exciting demonstration of how big data can be used to significantly alter our perception of cities, sonically. It pulls live bus arrival time information from a location selected from a map to compose a subtle, yet lively soundscape. Perhaps this could be used to improve our sonic experience of waiting at bus stops, challenging our perception of what road traffic sounds like?

After the presentations, there was an opportunity for participants to get involved in an interactive workshop to explore how we perceive our city to sound now, and how we would like to improve it in the future. The participants showed great enthusiasm and it was great to see architects, landscape designers, students, artists and acousticians all thinking about sound in their daily lives and practical ways of achieving better soundscapes in cities of the future. Indeed, it is only by creating a shared vision of what cities of the future will sound like, that we can then take real steps to achieving that vision.

Watch this space for more updates on our work with soundscapes in the near future…

Green Sky Thinking Week ran from 14 – 18 May 2018 and was organised by Open City. For more information, visit the Green Sky Thinking website here.

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