Outstanding Student Project Award: NSW

Bachelor of Planning Undergraduate Thesis 2011


Decibel Level (dB)
Loudest possible sound Rocket launch at 45m distance DEATH OF HEARING TISSUE Humpback whale song in water Loudest rock band on record Jet engine at 30m distance

194 180 170 160 150 140 130 120 110 100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 0

The reach of the senses - (Adapted by Cogger 2011 from
Skurnik & George 1963 in Rodaway 1994 p.27)

Gun shot, reworks, re alarm APPROX PAIN THRESHOLD Jack hammer, aeroplane takeo (from 22 metres distance) Close thunder, nightclub, ambulance siren PAIN BEGINS Concert at State Theatre, power saw Stereo (on half volume), chain saw LEVEL AT WHICH SUSTAINED EXPOSURE CAN CAUSE HEARING LOSS Truck tra c, lawn mower, train information announcement Vacuum cleaner, Town Hall train, station, alarm clock Hairdryer, heavy tra c, telephone, Pitt Street Mall Dishwasher, sewing machine, typical speech

Soundscapes are the totality of all sounds within a location, with an emphasis on the relationship between individual’s or society’s perception of, understanding of, and interaction with the sonic environment.

are you listening?






Light rainfall, refrigerator, St James Church crypt Quiet o ce Whisper, quiet library Leaves rustling, calm human breathing The softest sound you can hear THRESHOLD OF HEARING

The reach of the senses

(Adapted by Cogger 2011 from Skurnik & George 1963 in Rodaway 1994 p.27)

Decibel Level (dB) of Everyday Sounds
(Cogger 2011 & multiple sources)

The thesis documented the interplay between sound and place with a speci c focus on people’s behavioural and emotional response to their environment. Furthermore, attention was drawn to the importance of the sonic environment with regards to the role it plays in stimulating the human experience of place and in bringing places to life. Soundscapes are an integral component of place experience, yet noise policy addresses unwanted sounds and ignores the embodied experience of the urban environment. The current approach to the soundscape is narrow, and assumes incorrectly that if environments are quieter, the perceived soundscape quality will be improved. As such, greater emphasis must be placed on the quality of the sound environment. Wanted sounds should be identi ed and preserved. Controlling the unwantedsounds and negative aspects of the acoustic environment ignores the intrinsic qualities which contribute to the beauty, character and value of a place. The research has shown that the practice of urban planning is still too rigid and prescribed in the way environmental sounds are responded to, and opportunities to create engaging places that connect people to their surrounds in an emotional way through the acoustic environment are being missed.


Sound is an integral component of how people experience place and yet urban planners do not consider the soundscape and the role it plays in connecting people to their environments.
The concept of soundscapes and their perceived quality warrants attention from the planning discipline because:
All members of the public are exposed to the soundscape whether they like it or not. Places a ect our acoustic well-being, therefore conscious planning, design and management of soundscapes warrants attention as sounds can connect people to their surrounds. When an acoustic environment meets expectations, people will value and chose some places over others. When a strong sense of place exists it fosters connectedness, stewardship and increases feelings of belonging.

The thesis sought to address ve key objectives. The research and ndings of the thesis are demonstrated below. The research has: Demonstrated the nexus between postmodern urban planning, the phenomenological aspects of place and soundscape research, with speci c attention paid to the human experience of the acoustic environment. The research was positioned within the postmodern urban planning framework, with focus on the multidisciplinary, place-based approach to the design and formation of urban environments. Meaning is ascribed to place through identity, familiarity, value, people, memories, the spirit or energy a place possesses, history and future, and ultimately - experience. Soundscape research was canvassed with particular focus on the relationship between the individual, sound and the environment. The role of the senses was examined - in the human-place relationship. Each of the ve senses were considered in relation to people’s behavioural and psychological responses to their environment. It was identi ed that expectations and past experiences play an important role in an individual’s perception and understanding of the soundscape and place. Several responses to the soundscape were considered. The legislative framework planners work within is one response to the issue of noise. Additional approaches to the soundscape include disengaging through the use of portable music players and sonic interventions through artistic installations. Identi ed appropriate methods and techniques which urban planners can use in their assessment of urban acoustic environments Soundscape research is multidisciplinary and each discipline has di erent ways for assessing and studying soundscapes. Examination of the methodological approaches to soundscape research allows for the identi cation of a method that can be easily employed by urban planners. The soundwalking technique was adopted and implemented in the central business district of Sydney to show the ease in which this technique can be used by planners. Created a tool which planners can use to critically assess a sonic environment A simple soundscape evaluation tool was presented that planners can use to assess the quality of the acoustic environment. The tool draws together many of the techniques identi ed in the literature that assess soundscape quality. In addition, the common terms acknowledged in the discourse for identifying components of the soundscape were identi ed, in order to provide planners with a framework to describe, categorise and analyse soundscapes. Demonstrated the role of sound in bringing places to life, and engaging the user with their surrounds A place comes to life when all ve senses are evoked. Sound is an integral part of that life. Sounds are dynamic and signify activities and events taking place. Anywhere that there is life, there is a soundscape. The role of sensation and perception was examined, and how when an individual constructs meaning of their world through the senses. Sound plays a vital role in engaging the user with their surrounds - when people listen they create an intimate connection to the activities occurring within a place. Outlined the importance of an urban planner’s role in creating quality sound environments. Urban planners are in a position to address the urban acoustic environment given that the soundscape is the result of planning, design and development. The research argued that the noise control approach is no longer an e cient way to respond to environmental sounds, as the quality of the soundscape cannot simply be measured in decibels alone. The current legislative and policy framework that New South Wales urban planners work within was examined and an alternative approach for planners to address the quality of the soundscape was provided. If noise related legislation and policy, which planners use to deal with environmental sounds does not change, people will continue to disengage from the acoustic environment, and shared experiences in public spaces will alter, as will the relationship between people and the environment.


Physical damage of hearing caused by sound Measurement by sufficient A-weighted sound pressure level

85 dB(A)

Physiological impairment caused by sound A-weighted sound pressure level measurements necessary but not sufficient

65 dB(A)

The acoustic environment has been altered by technical revolutions, and the acoustic character of places is changing rapidly. The approach to the soundscape requires new patterns of behaviour, laws and framework to take a more positive approach by built environment professionals.

Annoyance by noise with negetative effects possible A-weighted sound pressure level is not suited for describing the sound quality

The signi cance of A-weighted sound pressure levels

(Adapted by Cogger 2011 from Genuit 2002, p.3)

People are not equipped with ear lids and cannot defend themselves against poor quality soundscapes. Every person has the right to an acoustic environment that is not detrimental to their health.

Continuous dB 85 dB 88 dB 91 dB 94 dB 97 dB 100 dB 103 dB 106 dB 109 dB 112 dB 115 dB

Permissible Exposure Time 8 Hours 4 Hours 2 Hours 1 Hour 30 Minutes 15 Minutes 7.5 Minutes < 4 Minutes < 2 Minute ~ 1 Minute ~ 30 Seconds

Planning can no longer be a “deaf” discipline. Planners are at the core of place and place-making and the soundscape is an integral part of human experience.

Education and awareness are integral to shifting the approach to the soundscape, from noise control and mitigation to focusing on soundscape quality.

Places must provide a rich sensory experience for users. People can be deeply a ected and touched by the soundscape or disa ected and ‘tune out’ from their environment.


Permissible exposure times to continuous decibels

(Cogger 2011)

Experience of place?
Have I been here before?

Does this place match with my expectatons of this place? YES

Place-making should enable and foster acoustic diversity and richness. There is a need to preserve wanted and valued sounds, and ensure that not all places end up homogenized and sounding the same.

NO Does the place match with similar places/contexts?
Can I match this place with a similar place I have experienced before?

Expectation Process Flow

(Adapted by Cogger 2011 from Bruce et al. 2009, p.3)

Hi - Fi Soundscape

Lo - Fi Soundscape

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