Acoustics for Supportive and Healthy Buildings: Emerging Themes on Indoor Soundscape Research
- Q1. How can acoustic design contribute to shaping regenerative buildings?
- Q2. What differences and similarities exist between outdoor and indoor soundscape approaches?
- Q3. How can indoor soundscapes be measured?
- Q4. What is the potential of sound management for biophilic design?
- Q5. How are “wanted” sounds related to health outcomes?
2.1. Expert Interviews
2.2. Data Analysis
3.1. How Can Acoustic Design Contribute to Shaping Regenerative Buildings?
“I think there is the assumption within the design community and even in some cases in the traditional acoustics community that if we just improve the acoustics a bit but make sure that the visual is really, really good then we have accomplished something important. And my response to that is that you have made a step in the right direction, but we are still underselling the importance of acoustics if that’s considered an accomplishment…It is better than nothing, but this is far from the whole picture because of the impact of acoustics…We haven’t even begun to research the importance of acoustics to people in the built environment”.
“There is a need to cover a much more accurate picture of the foundational importance of acoustics to the interaction of the acoustic sense with all of the other senses”.“It’s a multidisciplinary scientific approach and the reason why we find it hard to find evidence from an acoustic perspective at the moment is because most acoustic research doesn’t support that, because it’s not measuring the human perceptual response”.“[The acoustic community] is attempting to measure the perceptual response through A-weighted dB units; without being too critical. …the A-weighted dB unit is not anywhere near accurate enough to capture the human perceptual response”.
“I think there is a range of technologies…, not just to consider sound as noise, or waste, but also as a resource…Something we can think about is not only reducing the negative effects of noise but also promoting the positive effects of sound”.“I think there are two ways to get better acoustic design into green buildings and dwellings…Much work has already been done, for example, by putting sound insulation, reverberation time requirements and noise level requirements in building and design practices. This is very positive but it’s a more traditional approach…But beyond that…we can go further by introducing positive ways of using sounds, such as using sound masking systems inside of open plan offices and also creating some restorative spaces, for example in large shopping malls”.
“Soundscape is also a framework because there are many potential routes to meet the minimum specification. That is good news for designers and practitioners because it provides a lot of flexibility”.“From the sound path viewpoint, differently from traditional technologies based on reducing noise, we also think about how to manipulate or adjust different kinds of sounds, so the treatment may be good for certain frequencies but not for other frequencies…From the receiver viewpoint…which is the most important perspective in soundscape practice…we need to think of different people and different contexts…so overall…the design philosophy or technology would be quite different from [that used in] traditional noise control methods”.
“This is the core of the soundscape approach. We are interested in how people perceive and experience the acoustic environment in context…If you apply this definition to indoor soundscape design, you understand that it’s mandatory to involve people not only in the evaluation but also in the design of buildings”.
“To me the best way to address good acoustic quality is to implement integrated urban design and planning approaches, thus taking into account not only the acoustical dimension of the places but also the spatial ones and other environmental characteristics of spaces”.“If you really want to get great quality of indoor places you need to take into account that your buildings are placed in neighbourhood, you have to take into account what kind of mobility is going on in the neighbourhood”.“Integrated assessment of acoustics and overheating and ventilation…Traditionally in the UK they have been considered separately, so you do the noise assessment assuming the window is closed and if you do an overheating assessment you assume the window is open”.
3.2. What Differences and Similarities Exist between Outdoor and Indoor Soundscape Approaches?
“I think that [soundscape] methods are equally valid for any environment whether it’s indoor or outdoor because we don’t turn off our acoustic sense. The response, according to the soundscape model theory, is modulated by the context and our expectations. Our expectations outdoor might be different from our expectations indoor but we are still having a response to the acoustic environment”.
“In outdoor spaces people may not stay as long and there may be much more choices where to stay. In a hotel atrium or in a museum for example, you often don’t have many spaces to choose. Also, in indoor spaces people may have longer exposure to sound, such as in open plan offices…There are many differences and also people’s tasks are different”.
“Indoor spaces have reverberation associated, so the sound disturbance between sources can be stronger than outdoors”.
“The risk of having high insulation to the outside is that you might hear your neighbours more; and the sounds of your neighbours can sometimes be much more annoying than the sounds from outside. So, it can be useful to have some external desired sound from outside to mask unwanted sound from your neighbours otherwise you may need higher indoor sound insulation”.
“Music is a popular masking sound. Ideally, people like to hear their own music rather than other sources of sound. Maybe it’s more important to provide the opportunity for people to shape their own sound environment with the sound they prefer”.“I have started to use headphones and I am surprised by the extent to which I feel unconnected to the rest of the office when I do that. It increases my personal space, to not be disturbed and interrupted…But is it [wearing headphones] a failure of the acoustic environment or is it a good way to manage it?”
“Nothing replaces having good acoustics. Having good acoustics in the design of a building is the foundational element…Like a concert hall that is designed to be able to play a range of types of music, if you have really good acoustics principles in the design of the building then you can put many kinds of music in there, it is fit for purpose for a multitude of uses”.
“I would avoid superimposing supposed positive sounds into an environment because something that is good for you, might be not good for me…There might be the possibility to add some wanted sounds, but still I think that these kinds of design measures should be negotiated with people living in the places, in the buildings”.
3.3. How Can Indoor Soundscapes Be Measured?
“A better application of questionnaires and surveys methods [is needed] to gain information from people about their environment…the soundscape theory has information about the type of survey methods that can be used”.
“When I answer the questionnaires about my sound environment, I always feel that the questions are not quite the way in which I think about it or I would describe it. Interviews would be the best way to collect soundscape data”.
“Usually when I lead soundwalks I have discussions with the participants. So, you not only collect feedback from the single participant, but you can also get feedback or patterns emerging from the group discussion, from the exchange that participants have among them after the soundwalk”.“If you lead soundwalks with people you somehow invite them to reconnect with their sensorial experience of the places, you invite them to retune to their environment and this is something we are not so used to [because] we always wear headphones, we tend to stay detached somehow from the environment”.
“A soundwalk is any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is exposing our ears to every sound around us no matter where we are. We may be at home, we may be walking across a downtown street, through a park, along the beach; we may be sitting in a doctor’s office, in a hotel lobby, in a bank…we may be standing at the airport, the train station, the bus-stop. Wherever we go we will give our ears priority”.
“I think that soundwalks could be also led indoors”.“When you apply these kinds of methods indoors, there should be a…specific translation of those methods. For example, soundwalks may not be appropriate in indoor spaces. For example, you don’t normally walk [i.e., while performing the main task] in open plan offices or in restaurants…So maybe using the same principle you can design new survey methods, but the principle is the same, just finding out what is people’s perception when they are using the space. So, once you keep that in mind, I think even consultants could design something along with the ISO standard way”.
“What is not obvious when you do [a soundwalk] is how you might feel if you were there for a longer period of time, how much habituation you need in one place in order to get the sense as if you were there for a longer period of time”.
“Through the use of mobile apps people can collect data; can give their feedbacks on the quality of the indoor places independently from the researchers. People can work autonomously, they are not influenced by the researchers and mostly they can collect the data when they feel they need to share and they want to provide feedback”.
“If you are listening actively or passively to the environment, this changes the perception of the environment. As soon as you ask somebody about how they feel about the sound, they start listening actively, in a different way than before you asked them”.
“With non-participatory methods you can better understand what people are going to be like in their environment”.
“Collecting psychoacoustic data helps to really broaden out the picture of the acoustic assessment of the environment and helps to explain the human perceptual response in context. So, better use of psychoacoustic data integrated with traditional methods is one very important thing”.“Better instrumentation [is needed] to measure and to collect better acoustic data based on psychoacoustics”.
“My preference, my preferred method, is to use a combinational method because I think if you use a combination you can cross validate your findings and also more robustly support findings that you have”.
“We are at the beginning of investigating how to synthesize or harmonize different forms of measurements to fully assess the human perceptual response”.
“It would be difficult for buildings that don’t exist because soundscape only exists in the minds of people in the context. So, it is very difficult to do simulations to ask and understand ‘how do you feel in this building?’ Usually, in current practice, you can only get into an existing building [e.g., post-occupancy] and ask how they feel”.
“Auralization and visualization techniques can be used to support decision making and planning and help people to better assess the human perceptual response in context before things are completed. However, the auralization demo could be very different than [what users may experience] when having to live in the environment 24/7. It is not a panacea, but a step forward from what we have today where people just see visual models of things”.
3.4. What Is the Potential of Sound Management for Biophilic Design?
“You could somehow enhance the sonic stimuli coming from nature indoors if you work with different materials for pavements. You can use wood or gravel”.
“Personally, I don’t like being played fake birdsong rather than real birds. I find recorded birdsong a bit fake”.“I am skeptical that you can get some good sonic stimuli from nature indoors unless you use augmented technology to do that. But I am not so much a fan of artificial soundscapes”.
“Sometimes, if we cannot connect to nature outside 100% visually, but we use sound, we can enhance it. Then the overall effect can be greater. And, vice versa. If you want people to appreciate outdoor sounds like water…if people can’t see it, then it can sound like white noise and people may be not happy…A window would be good, otherwise you can have pictures of natural scenes”.
“Any biophilic element needs to have the right sort of acoustic profile that is going to support the work or the usage of the space. And again, this can be done by measuring and assessing, using psychoacoustic principles and, where possible, non-participatory observation…”
“One of the potential challenges of biophilic design is that, what happens if you have different tenants? What happens if you go to rent the building to someone else and maybe they don’t want waterfalls, they want something totally different?”“The biophilic elements are more like interior design features, they can be used if that suits the environment and people who are working there. But also, if they are taken out, people can still have a good quality acoustic environment…”.“Biophilic design is a tool, it is not the solution”.
3.5. How Are “Wanted” Sounds Related to Health Outcomes?
“The limiting factor in every case for the environmental noise limits [in WHO Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region guidelines] was annoyance. So, the [WHO] guideline levels, which are external noise levels, are based on annoyance rather than other health impacts of noise”.
“I think the principle is, below a certain level the type of sound is more important, if it’s positive or negative. But above a certain level you need to be careful. Although sometimes with positive sounds people are happy, but it is not good for their health. For example, in a very loud disco people are happy, they are not annoyed, but that is not necessarily good for their ears and heart”.
“People may want a calm environment, but they don’t want a monotonous or boring environment, they might want an exciting environment, they don’t want a chaotic environment. Acoustic boredom, being in a monotonous acoustic environment is just as frustrating as being in a chaotic environment because they are both unwanted. It is not a function of the decibel level, it’s a function of the perceptual response in context”.
“There is a kind of threshold, but this threshold may be different from space to space. For example, in outdoor spaces we found 65–70 dB LAeq in urban public spaces. But if you are sleeping, this threshold would be much lower. So, it really depends on what the task is and on what you do, and how long you have been exposed to sound. For example, if you are exposed to a fountain for five minutes, that’s fine, but if there is one fountain next to your desk, even if it is 30 dB, you may still feel annoyed after certain time”.
“From a pure soundscape perspective we would say, if I am choosing, I have control over my environment, I know if I am going to open this window I am going to hear some unwanted sounds but I may prefer that than this monotonous environment that is driving me crazy…Seen radically from a soundscape perspective we would say that because I have control over that situation, I am choosing it, therefore I am moderating my own cognitive response to this and…you may then not have the stress response that you have when you feel angry about the noise and no control to stop it”.“The key thing is about occupant control of the environment because when the occupants have control over their environment, they feel differently about it so they may rate it differently…That concept of having control over the environment changing your response to certain environmental conditions is embedded in the adaptive thermal comfort model”.
“It is not ideal. Ideal would be that people would not have to make a choice between thermal and acoustic comfort and noise pollution”.
“Because the way in which noise is measured and assessed [in WHO guidelines], it has not incorporated soundscape techniques…Because they are only considering dose-response evidence based on decibel levels, it is already incomplete evidence because we know that there is a greater ability to get more accurate evidence using augmented methods [i.e., from nonacoustical factors and psychoacoustic metrics] other than the dB units alone”.
4.1. Defining Indoor Soundscape Descriptors under a Multi-Domain Perspective
4.2. Developing Soundscape Data Collection Tools
4.3. Providing Scientific Evidence of Sound Benefits on Emotion, Cognitive Performance and Health Outcomes through Soundscape-Based Research
4.4. Designing Indoor Soundscape Strategies
4.5. Developing Soundscape Prediction Tools
- The soundscape framework, integrated into multisensory research, can help improve understanding of the human perceptual response to the indoor built environment in context, providing scientific evidence for the negative and positive impacts of soundscapes on human health, well-being and quality of life. Such evidence can potentially reinforce the role of acoustics in building design, foster socially and environmentally just urban and building design processes and challenge many current design practices based predominantly on a noise control approach. Indoor soundscape design solutions need to be implemented through participatory and integrated design approaches in order to shape indoor spaces able to provide acoustic delight, support for cognitive functions and enhanced well-being.
- Soundscape research needs to address the peculiarities of indoor soundscapes compared to outdoor ones. Differences are related to the physical acoustic environment, to contextual features that may result in different expectations (e.g., space use, time of permanence) and to consequent soundscape strategies to apply. Notably, in indoor spaces, masking strategies are based on the appropriate combination of indoor-generated and outdoor-generated sounds according to people’s perception (i.e., wanted vs. unwanted sounds).
- Research should explore the applicability of urban soundscape data collection methods to indoor environments and tailor existing methodologies to indoor soundscape features under the general framework provided by the ISO 12913 soundscape standard series [48,52,53]. Questionnaires and interviews integrated into soundwalks (or “soundsits”) and non-participatory observational methods  can provide valuable information on the human response to the acoustic environment. If integrated into current occupant-survey methods this could inform the design of better-than-neutral indoor acoustic environments.
- Sound can contribute to providing contact with nature according to biophilic design approaches. When outdoor natural contexts are not available, artificial natural sounds might be played if appropriate. However, added sounds should only be used if “wanted” by building users, coherently combined with visual stimuli; suitable for the tasks to be performed and the intended use of the building, designed and evaluated according to soundscape methods, and developed following participatory processes. Besides natural sounds, attention should be paid to the exploitation of commonly available urban sounds for providing contact with the outdoor environment and a sense of place, depending on the specific building use and available urban context.
- Moving beyond cause–effect relationships between decibel levels and resulting noise annoyance, new scientific evidence might be provided on the health, mental-health, and well-being effects of noise exposure and soundscape perceptual indicators. Such knowledge would provide new sound quality metrics and levels for building protocols, design guidelines, and standards that are a function of the space use, the availability of control, and exposure time. Below such thresholds, soundscape methodologies should be applied for improving the conditions of people inhabiting the built environment, in terms of emotion, cognitive performance, and health outcomes.
Conflicts of Interest
Appendix A. Questionnaire
- Restorative buildings are defined as buildings able to restore social and ecological systems to a healthy state through their impact on the environment, health, quality of life, and productivity of their inhabitants. Moreover, scientific literature provides strong evidence about the impact of acoustic conditions on health and well-being of building users. How do you think acoustic design can contribute in creating restorative buildings? Could you provide some examples of approaches and technologies that should be adopted for restorative purposes?
- During the last few decades, research and design criteria for the indoor environment have been oriented to a more and more human-centred perspective, by putting the focus on building users’ perception as a basis for the environmental characterization. As far as acoustics is concerned, the soundscape approach, originally developed for outdoor urban studies, has been introduced in the context of the indoor built environment to consider how the acoustic environment is perceived, experienced and understood by building users. Do you think that that such approach—namely, the “indoor soundscaping” approach—could be integrated into building assessment protocols, such as WELL? In case, how?
- Research on urban soundscape has stressed the need to go beyond the traditional approach based on sound level reduction, by considering the way in which the sound environment is perceived, in context, by people. This has provided the opportunity to exploit the potential of positive wanted sounds, besides the need to limit the unwanted ones (i.e., noise). What differences and similarities may exist between the outdoor and the indoor soundscape approaches in sound and noise management?
- Soundwalks, questionnaires, guided interviews, and non-participatory observations are some of the main methods used to collect soundscape data. What methodology do you think would be most effective to capture individual’s subjective perception of the indoor environment?
- Let’s think about naturally ventilated buildings (i.e., buildings in which ventilation is performed without mechanical systems, e.g., through windows opening) or mixed-mode ventilated buildings (i.e., a hybrid approach that combines natural and mechanical ventilation). Research has seen, during the last decade, a revival of natural ventilation as a passive low-energy option to provide—in some cases and conditions—fresh air and indoor environments thermally more stimulating and pleasurable compared to the static indoor climates achievable in centralized mechanically controlled buildings. One of the main limitations in the use of natural ventilation lies in the conflict between ventilation needs and access of external noise through ventilation openings, that connect the indoor soundscape with the outdoor soundscape. How do you think this conflict could be overcome?
- Biophilic design aims at increasing building users’ contact with nature, usually through visual natural scenes. What is the potential of sound stimuli to provide a contact with nature in indoor environments?
- The adverse health effects of environmental noise on people are widely recognized. To what extent wanted sounds can be accepted without compromising building user’s health?
- Imagine to be in a living or working indoor built space. In general, which qualitative attributes would you use to describe how you perceive the indoor acoustic environment? Please provide a list of adjectives that come to your mind.
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|Codes||Example of Excerpt||Theme|
|Acoustics Underestimation||“Design at the moment is so visually driven”||Dealing with complexity in user-building and building-city interaction|
|Need for Scientific Evidence||“We are living in a kind of transition phase and this is where we need a lot more evidence across soundscape”|
|Perceptual Approach||“thinking about people’s perception rather than just sound insulation, reverberation time…”|
|Multisensory Research||“There is a need to cover a much more accurate picture of the foundational importance of acoustics to the interaction of the acoustic sense with all of the other senses”|
|Multidisciplinary Approach||“we need to talk also with psychologists, medical people…”|
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Torresin, S.; Aletta, F.; Babich, F.; Bourdeau, E.; Harvie-Clark, J.; Kang, J.; Lavia, L.; Radicchi, A.; Albatici, R. Acoustics for Supportive and Healthy Buildings: Emerging Themes on Indoor Soundscape Research. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6054. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12156054
Torresin S, Aletta F, Babich F, Bourdeau E, Harvie-Clark J, Kang J, Lavia L, Radicchi A, Albatici R. Acoustics for Supportive and Healthy Buildings: Emerging Themes on Indoor Soundscape Research. Sustainability. 2020; 12(15):6054. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12156054Chicago/Turabian Style
Torresin, Simone, Francesco Aletta, Francesco Babich, Ethan Bourdeau, Jack Harvie-Clark, Jian Kang, Lisa Lavia, Antonella Radicchi, and Rossano Albatici. 2020. "Acoustics for Supportive and Healthy Buildings: Emerging Themes on Indoor Soundscape Research" Sustainability 12, no. 15: 6054. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12156054