Soundscaping is a fascinating business because sound is such an inherent part of our environment. You can think of soundscaping as like landscaping, except it’s something to please the ear rather than the eye. How do we make things sound nicer? That’s what soundscaping is mostly about.
In the acoustics profession, we try to differentiate very carefully between sound and noise. Noise is too much sound. It’s unwanted sound. The problem, of course, is that one person’s noise is another person’s sound. The general approach to acoustic design over the years has been to try and understand what people will accept rather than what is actually pleasant.
Indoors, there’s a recognition that the sound levels in an office affect people’s productivity. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for social environments. There is a bit of a love affair with hard floors and hard ceilings and that leads to this build‑up of noise, which I am sure you have all experienced – where you go have a meal and you end up with a full belly and a very sore throat from shouting to people.
I’m on a personal campaign to try to improve things in these spaces. As part of my work at Arup, I get to work with architects who design such venues. I also work with architects that design train stations and other transportation buildings. Because of the need to be able to make PA announcements (the building isn’t considered safe if you cannot hear and understand the PA), more modern transportation buildings are becoming better in this regard. We want to improve the environment in some of these spaces so that it’s calm and nice for passengers and staff. The calmness that you can get in a well‑designed building means people get angry less frequently, hear better, and everybody benefits.