Acoustic design for more livable cities
Image: copyright AECOM photo by David Lloyd
The sound quality of urban environments is an important consideration for people’s health and well being. The World Health Organisation notes that one in five Europeans is regularly exposed to noise levels at night that could significantly damage their health. My work in acoustic design looks at how we can advance tools and technology to assist in better managing noise pollution within cities.
AECOM’s acoustic practice recently partnered with the University of York’s Audio Lab, where I will be working over the next two years with Dr Damian Murphy and his team on a research initiative, funded through a Royal Society Industry Fellowship, which centres on advancing auralisation capabilities.
Auralisation is the audio equivalent of visualisation. We use it to create digital models where we can place any sound within a virtual environment to create the sense of hearing the sound as if it had been placed and recorded in the given environment.
Concert halls are optimised to create better spaces to hear performances. Auralisation also informs the interior design of office environments to enhance their acoustic quality. Our research, however, will look at adapting auralisation capabilities so that they go beyond an architectural (indoor) application to an environmental (outdoor) one.
We will look at new and more accurate ways to predict sound propagation outside, like wave-based methods, which better simulate the possible noise levels of new infrastructure so that their acoustic impact can be identified and addressed before they get built.
Perhaps most importantly, auralisation techniques will help us create tools to better demonstrate how noise level exposure relates to the subjective and qualitative nature of a sound environment, which is difficult to express amongst even experienced consultants.
Imagine what it will be like to have the ability to model the sound of a proposed road or rail link from virtually any point within its surroundings. We could plot its acoustical impact from the middle of a local resident’s garden – showing the difference between night time and day time conditions and between peak and non-peak usage times – and listen to the impact and the effectiveness of numerous mitigation strategies.
Having better tools to more accurately predict a soundfield benefits everyone because it provides a better understanding of a project’s potential social impact and makes the subjective quality of the soundfield easier to discuss. For example, it can inform the design of the infrastructure so that a road includes more effective sound barriers. It can also add transparency and foster more collaborative solutions in the project’s planning and public consultation process.
We want to see the next generation of auralisation improving the sound quality not just of buildings, but of the entire city to improve everyone’s quality of life.
Dr. Alex Southern (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Royal Society Industry Fellow and senior consultant, Environment, AECOM