The Acoustic Dimension of Landscape Architecture

Studies on the Perception and Implementation of Landscape Acoustics.

Nadine Schütz

Ongoing dissertation
Project timeframe: 2014-2017
Advisor: Prof. Christophe Girot
Project funding through the Swiss National Science Foundation, SNF

Prof. Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama, Architect, Kyoto University Design School
Prof. Germán Toro-Pérez, Composer, Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology, ZHdK

Auditory impressions have a significant impact on how people perceive and evaluate their environment. The rustling of the leaves, the tapping of the rain, or the children’s voices as they escape from the schoolyard play an important role in the aesthetic and spatial experience of what we call “landscape.” Yet in current design practice, auditory aspects are considered only when “noise” is present. This defensive attitude towards the acoustic environment manifests itself in corresponding “control measures,” such as noise barriers. Their effect, however, proves just as much visual as acoustic, evidencing a one-sided technical approach that deals with the acoustic environment as an isolated problem – in short, a missing link among landscape, design, and acoustics.

Long before the first noise protection law of Switzerland came into effect in the mid-1990s, composers, sociologists, and urbanists in the US, Canada, and France called for an open-minded attitude toward the auditory environment, coining the term “soundscape” to study and understand ambient sounds as a whole and in their emotional relevance to humans. To date, a wide research field has developed in which the soundscape-concept is viewed as a paradigm shift in dealing with the acoustic environment. However, a large discrepancy exists between theoretical examination of the sound environment, which describes noises and sounds “without bias,” and the reality of structural measures. This thesis therefore hopes to contribute to bridging this gap by unifying sonic qualities with the spatial concepts of landscape architectural design.

The thesis proposes a three-part research structure that examines the reciprocal relationship between sound-spatial structures and human perception from the perspective of landscape architectural design: first theoretically, then analytically, and finally design-driven.

In the first step, models of auditory perception from different disciplines will be analyzed in terms of their importance to landscape architecture design. Here, delineating the relevant relationships between acoustics and music – civilization’s oldest branch of sound science – plays an important role. This review forms the basis for the analytical methods to be developed for case studies in the thesis’ second part: the examination and presentation of sonic function in historical and contemporary examples serves to show the design potential of the acoustic dimension in the complex context of an actual, designed space.

The combination of insights derived from the first two parts of the study will inform the development of novel techniques for the aesthetic and spatial features of landscape acoustic design. The verification and validation of hypotheses based on their material translation into prototypes, which enable sensory experience, lay the foundation for their application in future landscape architecture practice.