Urban Tranquility

LESS NOISE IN LARGE CITIES

A good sound environment promotes well-being and health. Researchers will now study the way noise behaves in urban space, and come up with new standards for acoustic quality.

The acoustic environment in which we live is possibly much more important than previously thought. In recent years, researchers have documented significant correlations between noise, mortality and lifestyle diseases.

Players in the construction industry are aware of reducing noise levels when they build new urban spaces or improve the existing ones, but they are fumbling towards a good solution.

At present, there are no standards for acoustic quality and only very limited knowledge about the way sound behaves and affects people.

“We know that sound has serious consequences for health and well-being. Today we can measure the sound level in decibels, but we have no prerequisites for working holistically with sound design in urban spaces. We don’t know which buttons to push to get the best possible overall sound quality within the economic framework of a construction or renovation project,” says Professor Poul Henning Kirkegaard.

Acoustic quality as design parameter
In the coming years, Aarhus University will participate with Lund University and Aalborg University in the Urban Tranquility project, the aim of which is to develop an index for acoustic quality.

The project will be the first step on the way towards a paradigm shift in the construction industry, based on more in-depth knowledge of the impact of the design of buildings, pavings, town squares, planting and infrastructure on the sound environment.

“Sound is a complex research field. One thing is to point out obvious sources of noise and measure their strength. Another is to study the way sound is distributed in urban spaces and travels around the buildings’ bearing constructions. And then there are noise sources that we only register indirectly. This could be vibrations transmitted through the ground without our noticing them, but which influence our well-being day in and day out,” says Professor Kirkegaard.

New tools for architects and developers
The researchers will carry out a number of experiments and build a model that can predict the behaviour and influence of sound regarding a number of different health and well-being parameters. This means, in practice, that they will be able to assess the acoustic quality of a building or urban renewal project as early as the design stage.

“We’ll integrate the knowledge we build up in a calculation model. This will make it possible to optimise the acoustic quality of a project while it’s still on the drawing board. The design of the facades might need to be changed, the windows might need an extra layer of insulation, or perhaps there are absorbent surfaces in the urban space, noise barriers, road paving or other things entirely that provide the best effect. The point is that we’ll have a tool for prioritising,” says Professor Kirkegaard.

It will take about three years to develop the calculation model so it can be taken into use by architects and developers. The researchers also expect to make a significant contribution with new knowledge about correlations between sound quality and health.


PHOTO TOP: Sounds affect us. And they have a greater impact than previously thought. But what is good acoustic quality? In a new project, researchers will develop a model that makes it possible to predict how sound waves behave and affect people in urban spaces. The photo shows Professor Kirkegaard who is an expert in architectural Engineering. (Photo: Anders Trærup)