Soundscape Actions – A tool for planning and design

A soundscape action could be described as an action performed by landscape architects and urban designers with the purpose of improving soundscapes in outdoor environments, particularly in and around areas exposed to noise. Altogether, 23 soundscape actions1 are described in the boxes below and together they can be regarded as a design tool. The soundscape actions can be used as a dictionary to inspire ideas and/or as a way of structuring knowledge on the current state-of-the-art.

The actions are sorted around three main categories; each of these should be given consideration in design and planning of landscapes to ensure a comprehensive approach to sound. The three categories are; Localization of functions; Reduction of unwanted sounds and Introduction of wanted sounds. These categories are used as starting point to sort the soundscape actions, yet other filter options can be reached from the bottom of this page.

 

I. Localization of functions

This is the category that is most concerned with strategic decisions and overall planning. It deals with how different functions are located in space (and time), and focuses on compatibility between new and existing functions. This typically entails considering the influence of unwanted sound sources, and how noise can be avoided by ensuring distance and/or identifying areas that are shielded by e.g. topography and buildings. However, it can also be about identifying existing qualities, like a river, to localise functions. The other two categories concern decisions that are taken when the locations have been fixed and are more related to design decisions.

Compensation/variation

Strategic use of contrasting soundscapes can be employed as a way to enhance their respective differences as qualities, such as making a tranquil area seem relatively quiet in relation to a busy street.

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Embrace wanted sounds

To embrace wanted sounds is to identify qualities that already exist in the soundscape so that they can be used as a prerequisite to locate new functions.

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Avoid unwanted sounds

This involves strategic localisation of sensitive functions in positions sheltered from noise.

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Embrace unwanted sounds

To embrace unwanted sounds is to acknowledge (existing) noise as an urban quality that may be suitable for certain functions, like markets.

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II. Reduction of unwanted sounds

This is concerned with how interventions in the landscape can be used to reduce noise in a given area. Examples include screens, topographical changes or application of acoustically appropriate materials.

Vegetation for noise reduction

This concerns the role vegetation can play in some contexts to reduce noise

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High noise screens

High noise screens are approximately 1.8 m and above. These screens should be located as close to the source (or listener) as possible for optimal effect.

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Low noise screens

A low noise screen compensates for its lower height (up to around 1 m) by increased proximity to the noise it is screening.

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Buildings as screens

Strategically located buildings can be used as less obvious, yet effective, noise screens, also in combination with conventional screens.

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Changed topography

The shaping of the landscape topography can be used to form hills, berms or strategically shielded valleys.

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Reduce source activity

The reduction of source activity constitutes a broad number of measures that are aimed to influence the way an activity is carried out, so that noise is reduced.

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Maintenance

Everyday maintenance of outdoor space can have negative influences on the soundscape, particularly through use of machines with combustion engines.

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Absorbing qualities of materials

The absorbing qualities of certain materials can be used to reduce the impact from the sound, particularly in conjunction with unwanted source activities like roads.

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III. Introduction of wanted sounds

This is about introducing or finding ways to stimulate sounds that are considered wanted. This concerns preservation of water features and gravel paths, implementation of sound art and strategies to attract singing birds.

Auditory masking

The term auditory masking implies that a sound (masker sound) influences the perception of another sound (target sound), so that the focus shifts from the target to the masker sound.

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Visual masking

The general idea with visual masking is to hide the visibility of an unwanted sound source, and thus shift the focus away from the noise and reduce the negative impact.

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Sounds of water

Water is a classical component in landscape design that can be used for multi-sensory effects.

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Sounds of vegetation

The sound of vegetation is often associated with leaves that rustle in the wind.

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Walking materials

Walking constitutes an interaction with the landscape that can be enhanced through sonic feedback.

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Atmospheric design (loudspeaker-based)

Speakers are increasingly being used for various purposes in urban situations.

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Sound sculptures

Sound sculptures are installations that include sound as an important and obvious part of an embellishment.

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Biotope design

Through consideration of biotopes, you can affect the attraction on birds and other animals that contribute to sonic experiences.

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Attract activities

Areas intended for specific human activities, like cafés or playgrounds, generates a certain kind of soundscape.

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Resonance and reflection

The acoustic qualities of materials and spaces can be used to enhance wanted sounds through resonance and/or reflections.

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The design tool was originally conceived of in a research paper, based on three workshops in landscape architecture: Cerwén, G., Kreutzfeldt, J., & Wingren, C. (2017). Soundscape actions: A tool for noise treatment based on three workshops in landscape architecture. Frontiers of Architectural Research, 6(4), 504-518.

The tool has subsequently been developed and further discussed in a thesis in landscape architecture: Cerwén, G. (2017). Sound in Landscape Architecture: A Soundscape Approach to Noise. (Doctoral), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp.
The presentation on this website is based on the thesis, yet it has been adjusted to include illustrations and a filter to sort the actions.

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