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The Soundscapes of New Towns:

Defining architectural strategies to design contrast into the existing soundscape of the public realm to promote wellbeing in Harlow, UK.

Chloe Skry Newnham College 22nd April 2014 Essay 4- Pilot Study Word Count- 5457 excluding footnotes, annotations and references. “An essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design examination 2013-2015�

Acknowledgements I would like to thank Ingrid Schrรถder and Alex Warnock-Smith for their guidance in design and help in locating the project within contemporary architectural discourse. Prof. Koen Steemers, Ranald Lawrence and Jamie Anderson provided great supervision, technical guidance and helped to widen the scope of the research. Prof. Raf Orlowski and Prof. Jian Kang gave me great insights into the world of acoustic research and the future of our environment. Finally thanks to Rob Harris and Helen Butcher for introducing me to sound enhancement through performance space design.

Statement of originality This pilot thesis is the result of my own work and includes nothing which is the outcome of work done in collaboration except where specifically indicated in the text.




1 Introduction


2 Harlow and the New Towns


3 Uniformity of Sound in the Public Realm



Measurable/Immeasurable Factors



Sound and Site



The Need for Contrast by Architecture



Defining Criteria for Sound Zones


8 Intervention Typologies



Conclusions and Questions


10 Bibliography





Throughout the recent history of environmental design theory, the impact of sound on public space has been widely undervalued and ignored. This is partly due to the fact that noise is predominantly a psychological form of pollution which makes it harder to define by quantitative measures. Despite this lack of interest, sound affects the population on a daily basis and though we can chose whether to listen, we have no choice but to hear: “sight isolates, whereas sound incorporates; vision is directional, whereas sound is omnidirectional”… “I regard an object, but sound approaches me…” (Pallasmaa, 2005, p.49).

“In a quiet world, building acoustics flourished as an art of

sonic invention. In a noisy world it becomes merely the skill of muting internal shuffles and isolating incursions from the turbulent environment beyond.” (Murray Schafer, 1977, p.222)

For many years the practice of acoustic design in the public

realm has focussed on the need for noise mitigation: Lowering the background noise level in urban areas in an attempt to quieten the city soundscape. There is a sharp contrast between the treatment of the everyday soundscape- where noise is muffled- and that of performance spaces- where sound is enhanced. This pilot thesis will explore how sound can be used a positive resource in the outdoor public realm to enhance wellbeing.

The science of wellbeing The science of wellbeing endeavours to understand the factors influencing how individuals and societies thrive and flourish (Huppert et al, 2005).

It is a relatively new field of research that takes a cross-

disciplinary approach (starting from psychology) and is gathering interest from urban designers. Flourishing is a subjective measure


of wellbeing that is based on self-report and can be defined as the combination of feeling good and functioning effectively (Huppert and So, 2011).

The determination of how sound can affect flourishing can be

addressed in two ways: as much of the literature on sound is aimed at identifying behaviour stressors, in many cases a speculation will be made on how a lack of or negative pole of these factors could affect behaviour. However, as Huppert and So


state that “in

order to understand the characteristics and causes of flourishing, we need to study flourishing in its own right, and not as the mere absence of mental disorder”, research on direct links between noise environments and wellbeing will provide stronger evidence. In the science of wellbeing, the four personal functioning characteristics of ‘flourishing’ are “competence”, “meaning”, “engagement” and “positive relationships”

(Huppert and So, 2011),

the latter two of which

can potentially be enhanced in the public realm.

Analysing soundscapes Measureable factors of sound such as amplitude and frequency do not affect our perception of the sound event as much as the identification of the sound source itself. Planning law defines average sound levels over which mitigation policy is applied. However, Hall et al


state that “simply reducing the sound level of an urban space does not necessarily increase a listener’s degree of ‘acoustic comfort’”. As background noise levels continue to rise, reducing them by acoustic means becomes more difficult and costly to achieve in practice (Irwin et al, 2011).

Further to this, the possibility exists that if high-intensity

noise was removed from the environment, noise of lower intensity, formerly innocuous, would become more annoying and noxious (Glass and Singer, 1972). If annoyance is a complex function of individual signal

intensities over background noise levels, then contrast in the acoustic environment is more influential than overall noise reduction.

The implications for architecture Architecture heavily impacts on the sounds heard by the ear: “The distance to the wall determines the delay for the arrival of the echo, the area of the wall determines the intensity, and the material of the wall’s surface determines the frequency content.” (Blesser, B. and Salter, L. 2006, p.2) Sound intensity, frequency, reverberance and clarity are all affected by the surrounding surfaces, materials and open volumes, and each measure- most not currently accounted for in planning policy- affects the psychology and mental health of the space’s users. Since the 1970’s and the publishing of R. Murray Schaffer’s seminal work ‘Our Sonic Environment and The Soundscape: The Tuning of the World’(1977) many studies on the psychological effects of the soundscape have been published and the new field of acoustic ecology has been created. However, there are few studies that seek to apply these conceptual findings to the physical implications for urban design and architecture, and the fields of noise control (based on quantitative analysis made by acousticians) and soundscape design (incorporating sonic art as the realm of artists) remain disparate. More recently, ‘The Positive Soundscape Project’ at Salford University (Davies et al, 2009) looked to identify how sound can be used as a positive resource from an interdisciplinary perspective, and found scientific proof that the practice of sonic artists creating contrast in the soundscape could have benefits for mental wellbeing.



Harlow and the New Towns

Stevenage: 1946


Hemel Hempstead: 1947

Crawley: 1947

First wave New Towns 1946-1950 Second wave New Towns 1960-1964 Third wave New Towns 1967-1970

Harlow New Town was designated as one of the ‘Phase 1’ New Town developments in 1947. The New Towns Act of 1946 allowed the post-war government to designate areas as new towns and development control was passed to a Development Association. This Act was passed to meet substantial needs for housing and it provided an alternative solution to the densification of the cities or sprawling of the suburbs.

The Association adopted Howard’s prescription for the garden

city- a town just large enough to facilitate healthy living, industry and a full measure of social life surrounded by a rural belt (Morton, 1980, p.1).

By 1970, 21 new towns had been built in England, with more in

Scotland and Wales.

However, as many of the factories that provided work for the

population have since closed, less jobs are now available within Harlow itself and many people are forced to commute to London or other parts of Essex to find work. The centre of Harlow is underused and poorly maintained, partly due to its position in the town plan as an island cut off from residential areas by a ringroad, and people are now travelling further afield than Harlow centre to carry out their social lives and daily tasks.

Harlow’s population was measured at 81,944 in 2011 and this

is estimated to rise to 89,720 by 2021

(Harlow Council, 2013).


development sites around the periphery of the New Town are currently being built, more are planned and the town is growing steadily in housing stock. Harlow is thereby of particular interest to today’s audience as in 2012 the Future Homes Commission stated that “the number of new homes being built each year must triple, to over 300,000” (Pearman, 2012) in order to meet demand and this target is continuously not met. The expansion of Harlow is an exemplar of the scale/kind of expansion that would be required elsewhere to meet this target.



Frederick gibberd’s Map


The layout of Harlow In this study, Harlow acts as an example of a modernist urban development copies of which can be found throughout the UK. The palette of materials and spatial forms are common throughout the New Town developments and allow for the speculation of more wide spread measures from Harlow to the other New Towns. Of particular interest acoustically is Harlow’s pedestrianised centre, the principal of which “was inseparable from that of a centre being a series of spaces” (gibberd, 1980, p.140), which allows it to be analysed acoustically with reduced background noise from traffic. The fact that the town centre was designed and built as a whole provides the opportunity to understand how soundscapes can be designed for this purpose in the future; by analysing and retrofitting Harlow to improve the existing sound environment, we can seek to understand the town centre’s acoustic successes and failures to create guides for future development. “… with the removal of traffic from its heart, the centre could be a series of rooms, each designed for a particular purpose, and with its own character, like the rooms of the house. Harlow could have a brash and lively square for a market, a long space or mall for large stores, narrow intricate spaces for small shops and a splendid civic


square for the principal public buildings.” (gibberd, 1980, p.140) The town centre was originally designed to create contrasting sound zones. The Development Corporation placed no restriction on building materials so that the overall appearance of the centre would be “lively and interesting” (gibberd, 1980, p.207): without people to populate these spaces though, the soundscape cannot be described as the same. The scale and height of the buildings in different areas 3

were related to the spaces they formed- Broad Walk was faced by HARLOW AS BUILT The plan shows the development of Harlow over its years of contruction. When the centre was first built, the market was well used and extra market days had to be added to keep up with demand. Shops were built on terraces to encourage use of elevated walkwaysthese have since closed down and the walkways have been abandoned. 13


large stores and Little Walk by small shops. As the edges of shops are clearly defined in the relief of the facades, acoustically the larger the shop, the less texture and therefore the harsher the echoes returned from the street. Also, positive active soundmarks were incorporated: An aviary was built on Bird Cage Walk, and a ‘water garden’ at the south of the plan. However some compromises were made in the planning process: “When all is said and done the road is a concession we should never have made. The Market Square is too open and draughty. Without the road, it would have been at least 40 feet (12m) narrower and it could have been closed on all four sides, the east and west access being bridged over.” (gibberd, 1980, p.145) This change to the original plan and the widening of Broad Walk, both decisions made to facilitate the easy conversion of the pedestrian zone to a car-accessible one, opened up more intimate spaces- a move that inherently reduces reverberation and the acoustic intimacy of the space. Widening the shopping street also reduced acoustic contrast in the journey to it from the more open market square as there is a reduction in cut out (see diagram). Time has proved that the shopping street does work as a pedestrianised zone but due to this indecision its acoustic homogeneity with the surrounding areas has been increased. Acoustic intimacy is directly related to the scale of a space and there are optimum scales of space for each type of usage- for example to hear unamplified human voices with good speech clarity the maximum distance inside is around 12m- and this can be related to other measures for public space such as Jan gehl’s argument that 30m is the maximum for the width of a square because beyond that you are unable to recognise people properly (gehl, 2011, p.65). Harlow was conceived at the same time as the unrealised city of St. Dié by Corbusier. In its design, gibberd references modernist INCREASING INTIMACY

Options at 1:500 and 1:2000 for Stone Cross Square. The proposals go from temporary to permanent and vary in size. All options aim to reduce the volume of the square to make it more acoustically intimate, introduce new surfaces to increase reverberation and create defined acoustic zones 17





principals but the market square itself acts as a simulation of medieval space: the ideal modernist city prioritises private space whilst reducing the public realm. Rowe and Koetter


accuse Stone

Cross Square of being “little more than a stage set” and argue that “…it exists without essential back up or support, without pressure, in built or human form, to give credibility or vitality to its existence; and, with the space thus fundamentally ‘unexplained,’ it becomes apparent that, far from being any outcropping of an historical or spatial context (which it would seem to be), the Harlow town square is, in effect, a foreign body interjected into a garden suburb…” (Rowe and Koetter, 1978, p.61).

There is a strong dichotomy between the false

appearance of density in the centre and the leafy sprawling suburban estates that surround it. However, Gibberd’s aspiration to reproduce a historical pedestrianised centre helps to define the neighbourhood acoustically as it is in the more intimate spaces that community develops and culture first occurs

(Westerkamp, 1994).

Social interaction is protected

from the larger noise of a city in little squares and small alleyshistorically these hidden corners would develop as a city becomes older- and these islands of undisturbed communication can emphasise the acoustic identity of a place.

In the design explorations presented, three repeating elements

of New Town developments will be explored: the gate, the walk and the square. In Harlow the specific examples are West Gate, East Walk and Stone Cross Square.

THREE ELEMENTS Highlighting three areas for intervention: West Gate, East Walk and Stone Cross Square. 21



Uniformity of Sound in the Public Realm

The soundscape of the 21st Century Although the public realm allows for the option of easy escape from extreme environmental stressors, the possibility to access different types of acoustic zones is becoming increasingly difficult as urban soundscapes are gradually becoming more uniform. The constant drone of machine and transport noise impacts negatively upon speech intelligibility in public space and also lessens acoustic contrast in intensity and frequency. In developing countries such as China where 24 hour construction is permitted

(Sim, 2007)


possibility to find quiet in time or space is even rarer.

Murray Schafer


defines this type of soundscape as “lo-

fi”… “where signals are obscured in an overdense population of sounds” and attributes this condition to a loss of perception in spatial distance where only the positions of very close sources are audible through sound: this reduction in spatial understanding is likely to cause confusion and anxiety (especially in those with visual impairment) as “the first stage in coping with a new environment is to obtain information about it….” which “…happens through the various sensory modalities- vision, hearing, smell, touch, taste, and kinesthesis.”

(Altman and Chemers, 1984)

Therefore, unlike with Gehl’s

fixed measure of the impact of sight recognition on the scale of public space, to achieve acoustic intimacy the scale of the space required also depends on background noise levels.

Augoyard and Torgue (2005) define ‘drone’ as noise of a constant

pitch and intensity. Often it is made up of white noise where the signal is composed of all frequencies: natural drones are the sound of wind, rain and flowing water.

The sound of the modernist vision


“Just as [the] Bauhaus wanted to strip architecture and visual design of its ornamental fluff or visual “noise”-wanted to exercise a type of cleansing from the clutter that a traditional society can create- so Soundscape Studies and Acoustic Design wants to strip the soundscape of its sonic overload, its noise and all the acoustic “perfume”…” (Westerkamp, 1994)

The desire for silence in acoustic soundscape design can be related

to the desire for the simple, clean lines and reduction of ornamentation that modernism aspires to. However, real problems arise when the materialisations of these ideas are analysed acoustically- the steel frames, glass and concrete surfaces of high-rise buildings in modern urban centres create the so-called ‘canyon effect’ where background noise is hugely amplified (strong echoes are created), reducing speech clarity. In addition, the internationalist intentions of modernist urban design resulted in similar sounding public spaces to be produced all over the world further reducing contrast.

In theatres, after construction, the sound reverberation ‘settles’

over time to become warmer- this is mostly due to the inevitable layer of dust that forms over seats and causes harsh sound reflections to be softened. The modernist desire for cleanliness and purity does not allow this settling to take place.

“It is thought-provoking that the mental loss of the sense of centre

in the contemporary world could be attributed to, at least in part, to the disappearance of the integrity of the audible world.” (Pallasmaa, 2005, p.49)

With the highly engineered artificiality of acoustic materials commonly used in the interiors of modernist buildings, there is a lack of integrity between the sound response visually perceived and the response actually heard. Highly reflective surfaces can be made to sound highly absorptive with cleverly concealed acoustic absorption

and this causes anxiety due to the gap between what you see and what you hear. In most room types that are treated acoustically (except performance spaces) acousticians attempt to mitigate the differences that are inherent to the rooms’ form and materiality to create spaces with the same reverberation time and speech clarity level: therefore spaces are made to sound the same despite the fact that the ordinary human being enjoys variety.



Measurable/Immeasurable Factors





75.5 63.9










75 70












50 55




61.9 57.4 57.0


68.6 74.5 70









63.5 59.4







95 90 85 80 75

70 75 80

82.0 75


63.7 60.9


Sound intensity measured at different locations around Stone Cross Square, Harlow. Measurements in dB. Individual measurements taken between 12:00 and 16:30 on 02.01.14.


Quantitative measurements PLANNINg POLICy determines over which amplitude of background noise mitigation measures are applied. However, a high background noise level does not automatically equal acoustic discomfort: “One of the largest ever surveys of reactions to noise found that the combination of attitudinal differences (favourable or unfavourable) accounted for two and a half times more annoyance variance than the distance from the noise or the intensity of the noise.”


and Saunders, 1987)

Around 67% of the UK population were living in dwellings exposed to average noise levels exceeding 55dBA (the recommended level for protecting most people from being seriously annoyed) in 2001

(Kang, 2007)

and this percentage is rapidly increasing over time

as more people are choosing to live in cities. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to mitigate noise pollution to a ‘tolerable’ level. This constant attempt to reduce background noise levels leads us


to presume that the ideal acoustic condition would be one of ‘silence’. However, despite there being no such thing as silence (the constant frequencies of the functioning body disallow this even in an anechoic chamber), opinions contrast on the perceived effects on wellbeing that perceived silence would cause. Murray Schafer’s view (1977) is that “Man likes to make sounds to remind himself that he is not alone”… “total silence is the rejection


of the human personality. Man fears the absence of sound as he fears the absence of life.”… “he avoids silence to nourish his fantasy of perpetual life.” In contrast Sim (2007) argues that “to lose silence, to lose the ability to access silence when we require it for thought, reflection and inner regeneration, would be to lose an important


TECHNICAL INFORMATION ON SOUND INTENSITy The amplitude of a sound wave determines its intensity- how loud or soft the sound is. Amplitude is measured in Decibels (dB) which is an average measure of sound intensity across all frequencies. dB(A) weights the sound level by frequency as the human ear hears sound intensity differently for each frequency. dB(A) therefore gives a more accurate impression of the human perception of sound intensity. dB(B), dB(C) and Leq are other types of sound intensity measures that use different weightings. As the Decibel is a logarithmic measurement a doubling in sound loudness corresponds to an increase in 10dB. The reference intensity level (0dB) is equivalent to the quietest sound that the average person can hear which is 1 picowatt per square metre.


ANNOYANCE TO SOUND Using the 55dB limit for the public realm in central Harlow, we can see that Stone Cross Square provides the only opportunity for a quieter background noise level where there is little suceptiblity to noise annoyance. The main noise source is from traffic on the surrounding ringroad. The pedestrianised zone has a reduced noise level. 31

TECHNICAL INFORMATION ON SOUND FREQUENCy Wavelength is the length in metres of one complete wave. Period (T) is the time taken in seconds for one complete wave. Frequency (Hz) equals 1 ÷ T (the number of waves passing a point in a second) and affects the pitch of the sound heard. 1 Hertz is equal to one oscillation per second. Frequency is an objective measurement and its perception is linked to the loudness of the sound. Pitch is a musical term that is related to frequency and is the perception of sound frequencies made by the human ear- it is subjective but in general the higher the frequency, the higher the pitch. “High frequency: Sound from a distance, Perspective, Dynamics, Orchestra, Concentration, Air. Low frequency: Wraparound sound, Presence, Sound wall, Electroacoustics, Immersion, Ocean-Womb” (Schafer, 1977, p.118). In music, an octave is two notes that have frequencies in the ratio 1:2 and a third is 5:4.



Instruments can play between a set range of frequencies with each instrument having a different range.

part of our humanity.” With split public opinion, the ability to access either condition becomes vital and the perception of control reduces negative aftereffects of either event (glass and Singer, 1972). Nevertheless, there is evidence to support the notion that noisy environments contribute to a lack of social engagement: “The finding that people on busy streets are less helpful,”… “engage in considerably less social reaction, and report such streets as lonely places to live”… “may also in part be due to the influence of noise.” (Halpern, 1995, p.40). Though individual adaptation to noise does take place- for example people talk more loudly outdoors to account for the change in background noise level (Murray Schafer, 1977) - if speech intelligibility is too low, communication is likely to be discouraged.



-12 to -24dBFS

0-1000 Hz

1000-2000 Hz

2000-3000 Hz

3000-4000 Hz

4000-5000 Hz

5000-6000 Hz

-24 to -36dBFS -36 to -48dBFS -48 to -60dBFS -60 to -72dBFS

Intensity increases

-72 to -84dBFS -84 to -96dBFS


Sound intensity at different frequencies in Stone Cross Square, Harlow. Individual measurements taken between 12:00 and 16:30 on 02.01.14. In general there is a higher intensity of lower frequency background noise due to traffic, mechanical and ventilation noise.

Qualitative measurements In general, sound sources which are judged to be ‘natural’ are favoured to ‘mechanical’ sound sources. This may be due to the fact that: “… in all earlier societies the majority of sounds were discrete and interrupted, while today a large portion - perhaps the majority - are continuous. This new sound phenomenon”… “subjects us to permanent keynotes and swathes of broadband noise, possessing little personality or sense of progression” a study by Kang


(Murray Schafer, 1977).


70% of interviewees ranked the sound of

surrounding speech as ‘neither favourite nor annoying’. However human sounds do affect the depth of psychological adaptation more than sounds from landscape elements, which suggests that it would be beneficial to create opportunities for useful activities in open public spaces (Kang, 2007). In addition, people are less annoyed by noise if they are involved in making the noise, or if they can recognise a sense of purpose in the activity causing it

(Schaudinischky, 1976, p.193),

which shows that activities that engage local community members in productive activities could be the most beneficial. According to one study, individual perception of the sound source affects tolerance to sound intensity: “…when the dominant sound source was judged to be pleasant (e.g. music or running water), the level of listening comfort was rated far better than when the dominant sound source was judged to be unpleasant. Moreover, this relationship was true even when the overall sound level was high” (Hall et al, 2013, p248-254).

The introduction of a high intensity pleasant

sound therefore, when used as a masking sound, could considerably improve acoustic comfort (Kang, 2007). However, this tolerance peaks when sound levels increase over a certain level, around 70dB, at which point people will experience annoyance whatever the sound source.


Another study suggests that tolerance to new sounds is also

based on individual perception: “Reaction to a new noise source has been found to depend on sub-group class: some are noise adaptors, others are noise susceptible, and there are those whose annoyance will remain at a particular level as exposure continues. These subgroups are thought to be in the proportions respectively of 30, 30 and 40 per cent.” (Templeton and Saunders, 1987, p.7) Types of environmental background noise have influenced whole genres of music: “…railroads had an important influence on the development of jazz”… “blue notes (slides from major to minor thirds and sevenths) can be heard in the wail of the old steam whistles”

(Murray Schafer, 1977, p.113)

and the recent increase in low-

frequency environmental sounds correlates with the increase in bass effects in contemporary popular music. This mirroring of the outside soundscape through musical interpretation suggests an adaptation to and even appreciation of certain qualities of these types of noise source.

Though many studies have found conclusive evidence that high

levels of background mechanical noise impacts damagingly on wellbeing, younger people are far more tolerant towards these types of sounds than older people (Kang, 2007, p.73) which suggests that people born into these environments may adapt more fully to them.


Harlow is situated directly under the flightpath of Stansted airport which was built after the New Town. Depending on the prevailing wind condition, there is often a high intensity background noise source coming from the planes flying overhead.




Sound and Site

Reflection of sound from a flat surface (point source)

Reflection of sound waves from a convex surface

Reflection of sound waves from a concave surface

The edge of the wall acts as a new source radiating sound waves into the shadow zone New Source

Rays of sound travel faster in a denser medium: Refraction changes the direction of the wave.

Less dense Denser Plane waves of sound are diffracted by an aperture medium medium in the wall into spherical wavefronts

New Source

THE AFFECT OF SURFACES ON SOUND WAVES These diagrams show how sound waves reflect, diffract and refract around surfaces and objects. They give a basic understanding of how sound is affected by building surfaces, both inside and outside and show how there is a greater need for understanding in the acoustic design of the public realm. 41

However if the aperture is large compared to the through of with disturbance wavelength thelittle sound, the wavefronts will pass through with little disturbance

Sound waves diffract around a human head. Between 1 and 6kKz, sound pressure is increased in the front hemisphere and decreased in the rear

Wavefronts pass undisturbed around an object which is much smaller than the sound wavelength

When the object is large compared to the wavelength, a shadow is cast that is irradiated from sources on the sound wavefronts when they travel past the obstacle

Reflective surface Human noise source Amplified noise source Natural noise source

SOUND SOURCES Describing the acoustic coniditions in Stone Cross Square, Harlow. Sound is reflected from building surfaces and is attenuated through open space. Local residents report that the square feels ‘windswept’ and ‘empty’- two qualities that could be improved by an increase in acoustic intimacy regardless of an increase in human activity. 43

TECHNICAL INFORMATION ON ATTENUATION AND REVERBERANCE Sound attenuates through open space and is reflected by nearby surfaces. For a point source, when the distance is doubled, the area is quadruple and the sound level reduces by 6dB. For a directional line source, when the distance is doubled, the area is doubled and the sound level reduces by 3dB. The type of terrain alters ground surface friction. With soft ground cover such as grass, attenuation from a line source is increased to 4.5dB for every doubling of distance. When sound is reflected from a smooth surface the reflections are specular so that the original sound sources are heard distinctly and their position is identifiable. When sound is reflected from a rough surface the reflections are diffuse- the original sound sources are blended and their individual positions are unclear. Different materials have different absorption coefficients- materials such as smooth concrete, plywood panelling and glass are more reflective than materials such as fabric, carpet, fibreglass. An absorption coefficient of 1 is full absorption, 0 is full reflection. A shorter reverberation time is needed for speech in comparison to music as the threshold for signal blurring is lower. The early reflections that reach the listener within 0.05s are integrated with the direct sound and improve speech clarity, but any later reflections are disturbing.


Reverberation and clarity TWO MEASURES of sound that are heavily applied in the design of performance spaces are reverberation and clarity. Reverberation time (RT60) is defined as the time for a sound impulse to die away to a level 60 decibels below its original level, and is a measure of whether a sound is ‘live’ or ‘dead’. Materiality and open volume both affect reverberation times- with wood producing a warmer acoustic than hard materials like concrete that cause harsh echoes with longer RTs. Although in outdoor space, there is always less reverberation than in fully enclosed space, Chourmouziadou and Kang


found that for occupied conditions in outdoor Roman theatres the acoustic indices were rather good and close to those found in modern enclosed theatres. Similarly, there is a possibility of enhancing the reverberation times in more enclosed open spaces like public squares

Time Attack





to create a ‘warmer’ sounding environment, but too little research has yet been done on the effects of acoustic warmth on wellbeing. Clarity allows speech to be heard well and is often reduced by a surplus of sound reflections causing the original signal to become muffled (Kang, 1998). As there are no ideal conditions for reverberation or clarity yet estimated for the public realm, it is suggested that these two measures should be used to create contrasting sound zones within the public realms of urban areas to increase overall vibrancy and sense of control.

Influencing factors The facades of buildings surrounding public space affect the sounds heard there. Materiality, surface texture, facade relief and the open volumes between them affect how sound reflects on nearby surfaces and changes the perception of acoustic intimacy. The perception of sound is also based on spatial visuals: “Spatial impression is a major factor influencing perception of urban soundscapes”… “urban open space, was one of the major types of urban soundscape and openness significantly correlated with overall impression” (Jeon et al, 2012). In general a positive evaluation of the landscape/urban environment reduces annoyance of the soundscapes and vice versa (Kang, 2007), which further confirms architecture’s influence on sound perception.

Smooth surface

Rough surface MATERIALITY As the surrounding buildings of Stome Cross Square are mainly acoustically reflective (concrete and glass), much of the sound is reflected back into the square increasing the sense of acoustic intmacy. However the vast scale of the square means that these reflections are not heard in the central area due to sound attenuation. 47


There is a large amount of detail in the reliefs of many of the facades in Stone Cross Square, Harlow due to the panel based construction which cause a more diffuse reflection of sound sources back into the square. The prominent materials are glass and concrete which are both highly acoustically reflective materials so the reflected sound will make the space feel more ‘live’. 49

Existing condition

Intervention 1

Intervention 2 ms STATISTICAL REVERBERATION TIME 54000 48000 42000 36000 30000 24000 18000 12000 6000 100Hz Speech Existing Condition


ms STATISTICAL REVERBERATION TIME 54000 48000 42000 36000 30000 24000 18000 12000 6000 10kHz Music

100Hz Speech Intervention 1


10kHz Music


ms STATISTICAL REVERBERATION TIME 54000 48000 42000 36000 30000 24000 18000 12000 6000 100Hz Speech Intervention 2


10kHz Music

Showing how different proposals affect sound reverberation in the square. Reverberation times are approximated in the graphs. The existing square has strong echoes and long RTs. The ideal average RT for a room is 1.5 to 2.5s- intervention 1 has the closest RT to this. In intervention 2, a longer RT creates a more live space. 51



Harlow is situated between a railway line from London to Cambridge which is in frequent use and the busy M11both sources of heavy noise pollution.


Wind speed increases with height above the ground.

Wind direction

Sound shadow

Air temperature






Warm Sound shadows Cool



Wind bends sound waves- less sound is heard at a point upwind and listening conditions are improved downwind. Rainfall causes higher reverberation. Temperature causes a bending in sound waves: at night the sound waves will be diffracted downwards. During daytime less sound is received to the human ear than if there was no temperature gradient. (Kang, 2007) 55


The Need for Contrast by Architecture




Existing projects Simons, Detenber, Roedema and Reiss (1999) found that when subjects viewed moving pictures, compared with still ones, they had sustained heart rate deceleration which suggests a continued orienting over presentation time that is greater for dynamically changing than static visual images (Lang and Bradley, 2000, p.214). This study of dynamic versus static forms of stimulus presentation can be extrapolated to sound as it is inherently serial in nature and suggests that a live hi-fi environment could lower heart rate due to stress reduction. This preference for a hi-fi environment is supported by ‘The Positive Soundscape Study’ at Salford University

(Davies et al, 2009)

which defines the two principal dimensions causing an emotional response to sound as ‘calmness’ and ‘vibrancy’. “Further, vibrancy seems to have two aspects: organisation of sounds (cacophony – hubbub) and changes over time. The long-standing artistic notion of the environmental soundscape as being a sort of musical composition has been borne out in these findings” (Davies et al, 2009, p.9).

To heighten acoustic contrast in the public realm, Kang


suggests that “an urban space can be designed to encourage activities which generate active soundmarks”. This concept would be supported by Murray Schafer (1977) who remarks that “the flat continuous line in sound is an artificial construct. Like the flat line in space, it is rarely found in nature.” In practice there are many methods to create these ‘soundmarks’: In many acoustic studies, such as Davies et al


where bird noise was added to a busy street, acoustic interventions are made in a space in an attempt to change the soundscape by adding a new active sound source with varying success. If soundscape interventions creating contrast are too unpredictable however, postnoise behaviour shows greater impairment than if the sounds had QUIET PEDESTRIAN SPACES

Identifying the higher levels of acoustic intimacy found in pedestrian square spaces in central Cambridge and understanding their potential for activity.


quiet, intimate acoustics. footsteps are audible.

arcade reduces traffic noise. human voice is audible.

lots of human interaction

high walls, thin alleywaySTRONG ECHO

high contrast from QUIET to NOISY (busy road)

thin alleyway- traffic noise is MUTED

college egg gate acts as buffer zonee b between noisy street and SI SSILENT inner squaree

difference between footsteps- soft silent grass, uneven rhythm on cobbles, sharp steps on paving

human conversationpeople sat outside

quiet woodland path, not full public access cows mooing, leaves rustling

heavy traffic BACKGROUND NOISE

squeak of bike breaks

heavy footsteps


brick wall makes voices more audible busy market square, WARM and ENVELOPING



Big Issue seller caalls outt

engine revs

birds tweeting b people tallking beow on punts, du ucks quacking traffic noise inccreases towards Queen n’s Road

voices far away in park

busy junction

DOPLAR EFFECT from truck

soft tarmac on drive

traffic noise more intermittent

some conversation

some conversation

h human interaction generally SUBDUED


church bells chime

suitcase wheels squeak

few voices

low hum of traffic

road works LOW FREQUENCY

stone causes STRONG ECHOES

man talking on phone

tall church facade ENVELOPES voices of passers by

few voices

splashing sound from cars on road very windy busy junction, squeaking bus, whine of engines

blurred clarity. traffic LOUD

construction noise

LOUD blowing wind

heavy rain

no human speech




traffic and voices on roundaboutt

been predictable: “Even though adaptation to noise occurred to an equivalent degree under both conditions, the magnitude of adverse aftereffects was far greater in the unpredictable condition” (Glass and Singer, 1972, p.157).

We can therefore predict that a constantly changing

sound intervention could cause more adverse effects through shock at high intensities than a series of different acoustic zones that are constant over time so that they become part of the memory of a place. Other studies try to mask background noise with positive noise sources or reduce it by mitigation methods to allow a heightened perception of quieter noise sources that are considered as more favourable.

Another study that supports the call for a contrasting acoustic

environment is the EU funded ‘Quiet Side Project’ in Sweden. To qualify, the ‘quiet side’ of a building was defined as having an “LAeq,24h ≤45 dB, free field value with the relation +3 dB 2 m from the facade as a total level from traffic, ventilation and the like and, where appropriate, industry” (Gidlöf-Gunnarsson et al, 2012). In qualitative terms it should be “an environment where the contribution from traffic noise, fan noise and the like is low enough that sound from conversation, from wind in the leaves, bird song, etc. are heard and dominate the sound environment”

(Gidlöf-Gunnarsson et al, 2012).


most acoustically exposed side of the building should also not exceed an average sound level of LAeq,24h=60 dB.

One spatial method of achieving this condition is to erect shielding

buildings to stop traffic noise penetration through existing gaps. Traffic noise has been proven to cause adverse health effects such as sleep disturbances, annoyance, speech interference, and stressrelated symptoms

(Berglund et al, 2000).

However as “it is noteworthy

that the subjects’ perceived noise constraint (their ability to control or avoid the noise) was more strongly related to noise annoyance MAPPING CONTRAST A soundwalk between the train station and West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge. The yellow dots signify a subtle change in the soundscape and moments of contrast.



a ous�c baffles were used ac d in in the street

in ndoorr shopp ppin pp ingg ar a ea eass ha had d no o materials that produ uce c a longer reveerbera�on �me weerre re usseed d

g as gl asss ar a caade dess weeree int n ro rodu duce du ceed tto o imp mpro r ve ve aco cous us�c � in� n�ma m cy

there were covered walkways to improve clarity of hum man voice

the whole of Cambridge was housed in colleges

th he ty t pe off o oor orrin o ng determined mined the rrhythm hyth hy th hm of o sste te

central public space was injected into the sprawling suburbs

all soun un nd zo z nes had an acous�c buffer area between them

Alll paveme Al ment me ntss wer nt

everyone could walk on rhe grass

college courts had to be made more public

college buildings were forced to move to the outskirts of the city

as ha had d no o roof

in� n�ma m cy

cars were li�ed off the street

tthe th h sound of water was everywheree


th thm hm of o ssteps teps te ps

Public squares were created

m re a�en�on mo o was paid to the acous�cs of paving materials


ment me ntss were hidde nt d n inside buildings


Government organisa�ons were housed in college squares


at the front of the sta�on was a traffic free square

A soundwalk was taken along this route and the soundscape was found to be uniform for long portions of the route. Different types of intervention were explored- from changes in material surfaces to mitigation of car noise to introducing anechoic chambers for moments of silence along the route. 61

than the noise level itself”

(Halpern, 1995, p.40),

introducing an option

to experience a quieter environment within easy reach less affected by traffic noise in the public realm could reduce these adverse health effects. This project would also positively affect the residential areas affected as sleeping zones could be located towards the quiet side of the dwellings.

The existing soundscape of Harlow In Harlow there is existing acoustic contrast found in the central zone, but the identified areas highlight opportunities to increase this. Stone Cross Square: The square has been described as “windswept”(BBC, 2011) and it is much less frequented than in its former years as a thriving market square. The market has now dwindled to occupying a quarter of the square and traders revert to using sources of amplified music to create a false sense of busyness within the square. The butcher van uses a microphone to advertise his produce to the end of Broad Walk. He is positioned facing outwards from the edge of the square and dominates the soundscape. A few human voices are hardly audible in amongst the amplified sources. The surrounding sound zones are Broad Walk which is noisy buy wide (so little reverberation) and narrower streets that are less populated.

West Gate: The gate acts as a transition zone between the outer

car belt and the pedestrian zone. West Square to the East of the gate is a long thin rectangular space that is currently very quiet and underused. There are derelict shops lining the edge. The sound heard under the gate is reverberant due to the overhead cover. There are some voices coming from the entrance to the shopping centre at the south of the square. The background drone of cars from the ringroad DOCUMENTING SOURCES In Stone Cross Square the most audible noise sources are the electrically amplified sources- the butcher calling out from his van on a microphone and music being played from speakers loudly on a market stool. These noise sources attempt to fill the empty acoustic nature of the space but they reduce the possibility of hearing human speech. 63


is also present at a low level. East Walk: A reverberant narrow street leading to ramp and overhead walkway. It is fairly populated- voices and footsteps are clearly audible. Recessed shops and overhead canopies reinforce reverberation and the textured relief from smaller shops makes this reverberation more diffuse. Bird song is also present. The surrounding sound zones are the overhead walkway which is highly reverberant- concrete and glass surfaces- and Broad Walk.


Making observations using descriptive words from acoustics. The overhead surfaces increase reverberation and the textures of paving/shop fronts affect the reflections.



Defining Criteria for Sound Zones

1:50 1

3 4 5 6


No. 1 2 3 4 5 6

Function Cafe Stairway Installation Boardroom Meeting Room Road

Type of Intervention Volume Materiality Focussed listening/silence Containment Isolation Mitigation

IN ORDER to design for contrast, we first need to identify the different desirable sound zones that we should aim to create. There is an additional importance of defining types of transition zones and how these spaces should connect contrasting sound zones: soft transitions can create a slower rhythm along a walked route but stronger transitions with a large degree of cut out can help people become more aware of the contrast. Ideas for different sound zones are manifested in the proposal for West gate and are defined as follows: 1. A zone for silence/directional listening of plane noise 2. A zone to create harsh strong echoes to emphasise the sound of footsteps and the human voice. 3. A zone to create warm diffuse echoes which is ideal for performance (busking/street theatre) 4. A zone which is acoustically contained 5. A zone which mitigates car noise 6. A zone which allows participation to create listening areas Before applying sound zone types to different areas, it is important to understand what points of contrast already exist and whether these more subtle changes can be emphasised. As in the 100 Soundscapes of Japan project (Torigoe, 1999), it is also important to understand which soundscapes people would like to preserve. This will be further explored in the context of Harlow and the New Towns in the following thesis document.


The model shows three seperate sound zones in the gate- a silent area on top, two reverberant chambers on each side and mitigation for the road underneath.


1:50 1

3 4 5 6


No. 1 2 3 4 5 6

Function Cafe Stairway Installation Boardroom Meeting Room Road

Type of Intervention Volume Materiality Focussed listening/silence Containment Isolation Mitigation







A. Cafe B. Cafe outside seating (Quiet area) C. Screen for Projections D. Prop and Costume Store/ Backstage Area for Performance Space E. Performance Space F. Bird Song Area (Trees grouped together) G. Butcher Van- Rotated 180 degrees and non-amplified H. Plane Viewing Platform (Above) I. Intimate acoustic space to encourage increase in market use J. Acoustic barrier to traffic noise





CREATING NEW ZONES 1:500 In Stone Cross Square this intervention creates different sound zones using existing sound sources. The existing market is restricted to a smaller area so that it works as a street dynamic and reverberation of non-amplified voices make it sound busier thereby attracting more people. A cafe space is screened at the most quiet point of the square. 73


Intervention Typologies

West Gate Proposal 1:200

Silent Box Intervention creates opportunity for silence in a lo-fi soundscape. Also links overhead flightpaths from Stansted Airport with the New Town to change perception to an undervalue moment of contrast in the soundscape.

Boardroon with containment acoustic insulation panels is isolated from the outside soundscape.



Acoustic chairs can be used to define boundaries in the Meeting Room.

61 .9



71 .6






Performance Staircase with textured wooden tiles to create acoustic warmth. Concrete cafe extension creates strong distinct echoes.


By using a variety of scale of interventions, I hope to illustrate a number of different approaches to soundscape design: 1. Firstly the ‘Silent Box’ is conceived as an art installation which provides the opportunity for silence- it is not site specific and can be moved around or produced on a mass scale to provide an option for quiet in busy urban areas. 2. Reducing/opening up volume of public space can increase reverberation. In West Gate, by opening up the space above the footpath (taking out the office space above but keeping the ceiling) I created a semi-enclosed room with increased volume which increased reverberation. In Stone Cross Square, I created divides (screens or buildings) through the square to increase zoning and the acoustic intimacy of the individual zones. 3. Using material surfaces is a superficial change that could be cheap and easy to produce. Changing paving materials can create contrast through footstep noise and rhythm of pace and changing wall surfaces can impact on reverberance and absorption. 4. Screening can mitigate against unwanted noise sources or help to increase cut out between different acoustic zones to strengthen contrast. 5. User activated soundmarks: Using acoustic furniture that can be moved allows the opportunity for public participation in defining acoustic zones. Seating areas also encourage conversation. Musical cycle paths and places for performance events can create contrast over time. 6. Environmental activated soundmarks: Rain activated water features or placement of trees can create new sound sources and contrast over time. PROPOSAL FOR WEST GATE

The stack of plans show the interventions at each level. The proposal as a whole incorporates many different scales of interventions: from the Silent Box at the top to the material changes of the underpass.


59 .2

59 .4

Silent Box Intervention creates opportunity for silence in a lo-fi soundscape. Also links overhead flightpaths from Stansted Airport with the New Town to change perception to an undervalue moment of contrast in the soundscape.

Boardroon with containment acoustic insulation panels is isolated from the outside soundscape.

Acoustic chairs can be used to define boundaries in the Meeting Room.

Performance Staircase with textured wooden tiles to create acoustic warmth. Concrete cafe extension creates strong distinct echoes.


Stone Cross Square Zoomed in Axo of Proposal 3

Using material and surface changes, creating new opportunities for positive soundmarks and artistic interventions are cheap and easy methods of retrofitting an existing urban area to increase contrast. Volume changes and screening are easier to consider from the start of a planning project. Currently acoustic designers are given architectural designs to apply minor changes to in order to enhance acoustic capabilities. If acoustic designers were integrated from the start of the design process, more fundamental differences in acoustic zones would be made possible: acoustics as a driver and not an afterthought.

ACTIVATED SOUNDMARKS This axonometric identifies different methods for applying contrast over time and space. A rain activated water feature is applied to the roof of one building (environmentally activated) and a user activated musical cycle path creates a warning signal as well as adding contrast to the sound environment. 79


Conclusions and Questions

By creating contrast in the acoustics of the public realm we can help to reduce stress by increasing the vibrancy of the environment, creating opportunities for calmness, improving the perception of escape from environmental stressors and granting individuals a sense of control. Architecture shapes the acoustics of our urban environment: the forms and materials we use change acoustic warmth and clarity of speech as well as having the potential to mitigate negative noise sources. Our designs can also affect the acoustics of a space indirectly by encouraging activities to take place in the public realm that cause a perceived favourable sound source to be emitted; for example using seating to encourage conversation.

A new concept of the ‘soundsphere’ is proposed, where space is

factored into the idea of the ‘soundscape’. In the public realm where movement between different acoustic zones in a central urban district is a likely possibility (and is often explored in acoustic ‘soundwalk’ studies), a detailed study of connecting spaces and their existing acoustic conditions would aid understanding of the ideal conditions for the promotion of wellbeing in central urban districts as a whole, and this is what is demonstrated in this study of Harlow. Government legislation and funding bodies are currently concerned with the negative health implications of the environment and changes are unlikely to be made to the built environment without substantial concern that mental health is being affected negatively: currently mitigation measures are applied when sleep/ability to learn/stress levels are affected by high noise levels. Therefore it is unlikely that funding will be provided to retrofit existing urban areas in order to improve wellbeing. However, by testing existing conditions, new sound zones and types of interventions to achieve them have been identified which future urban designers can use to inform their decisions. Areas of acoustic importance have also been LONDON BRITTANIA AIRPORT Airport capacity in the South East needs to be increased: should local airports in London be combined into one larger airport as the government is currently proposing? Could perception to aircraft noise be changed substantially to enable the benefits of local airports to outweigh the negative noise impacts? 81

identified for future analysis of existing soundscapes- a qualitative understanding has been argued as being more important than a quantitative one. A constant quiet soundscape is not ideal for everybody- many people move to the city to experience the perceived excitement of an increased amount of visual and audio stimuli - but not having an easily accessible option of being in a quiet space (inside or outside of the home) can quickly increase susceptibility to noise annoyance. When the steady background broadband noises of transport and mechanical services are already at such a high level it can be easy to assume that to create quiet spaces within the public realm is impossible. However, using a combination of the intervention types identified, the art of sonic intervention can be practiced to create contrast even in a world of high background noise.


Using a combination of interventions over the whole of central Harlow allows different sound zones to be found by users and a choice of soundscapes is made available.


Created opportunity for interaction/performance to increase positive sound sources to create contrast over time Increasing contained volume to heighten reverberation of the human voice/footsteps and using materiality to affect acoustic warmth Environmentally activated sound source interventions User activated sound source interventions Perception shifter and opportunity for silence Containing different sound atmospheres and mitigating negative sources Using different textured material pavings to create user activated sound contrast

Sound Interventions Masterplan 1:500

85 N




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The Soundscapes of New Towns- Chloe Skry  
The Soundscapes of New Towns- Chloe Skry