Investigations on the Influence of Auditory Perception on Urban Space Design Through Virtual Acoustics

Investigations on the Influence of Auditory Perception on Urban Space Design Through Virtual Acoustics

Cristina Calleri (Politecnico di Torino, Italy), Louena Shtrepi (Politecnico di Torino, Italy), Alessandro Armando (Politecnico di Torino, Italy) and Arianna Astolfi (Politecnico di Torino, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3637-6.ch015
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The study investigates the influence of different façade materials on listeners' space wideness perception on the basis of auditory stimuli, aiming at improving the awareness of how different façade designs can influence the outdoor environment under multiple aspects. The investigation has been conducted through a listening test with a 4-level factorial design in which participants had to rank different sound stimuli with respect to the perceived wideness of the space in which they were produced. The stimuli were obtained through auralisation of an impulsive sound in virtual scenarios in which different scattering and absorption coefficients of the building façades and different source and receiver positions were tested. Results showed that the absorption coefficient of the façades and sound source position significantly affect the perceived wideness of spaces while scattering coefficient and receiver position do not. Moreover, no correlation was found between the above-mentioned factors, and music experience of participants proved not to be an influential factor as well.
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Auditory Perception of the Urban Environment

Visual perception is often considered as the prevalent way through which individuals collect information on the surrounding environment and interact with it. This is especially true for architectural and urban design practice, which - except maybe for some specifically dedicated spaces such as auditoriums or theatres - has always been mostly focused on how spaces shapes and geometries are visually perceived and on the information and messages that architecture can convey to users through a visual language.

However, the importance of the role played by other senses in our spatial experience is now widely recognized and visual perception is proved to be part of a larger network that combines sensory evaluation from multiple sources (Schams & Kim, 2010). Among those senses, hearing is maybe the most studied in its involvement in space perception and recognition. The interest towards sound in the environment has roots that go quite far back in time.

As reported by Radicchi (2012), references to acoustic environment can be found in the studies of the German psychologist Willy Hellpach who, in its book Geopsychische Erscheinungen in 1923, writes about the colours of the landscapes and the elements which are perceivable through hearing, smell and touch. However, it was in the sixties that the interest towards sound was developed in the field of urban studies, with the pioneer studies of Michael Soutworth at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Southworth, 1967).

Since those studies, closely followed by the introduction of the concept of “Soundscape” by Murray Schafer (1977), an ever-growing number of researches have concentrated on the auditory perception of outdoor environments. However, most of them have concentrated either on the “informative content” of sounds, i.e., the information that a sound can convey on the source that has produced it (see, for instance, the work of Brown, Kang, & Gjestland (2011) on the taxonomy of sound sources in urban environment, or the analysis of terms used to describe sounds and sound sources in Davies et al. (2013)) or on the perceived affective quality of soundscape (Axelsson, Nilsson, & Berglund, 2011).

On the contrary, very few researches (e.g. Calleri, Astolfi, Armando & Shtrepi, 2016) have investigated the influence that sound can have on the perception of the physical characteristics of the space itself (geometry, perceived wideness, etc).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sound Scattering: The capability of a surface to irregularly diffract and reflect in many different directions the sound waves striking it.

Sound Absorption: The capability of a material to absorb the sound energy that strikes it. It is a specific characteristic of every material.

Urban Space: An open space that is part of the urban fabric.

Urban Design: The process through which a city, town, village, or urban area is designed and shaped. With respect to architecture, it focuses on a larger scale of intervention, ranging from a group of building or a public space, to entire cities.

Soundscape: A specific acoustic environment as perceived or experienced by a listener.

Subjective Listening Test: A test in which participants are required to answer to specific questions on the basis of their auditory perception of specific sound stimuli.

Building Façade: The exterior side of a building. Usually this term is applied to the building front, but it can also apply to other building sides. In the present chapter, it refers to all buildings’ exterior sides.

Auralization: It is generally conceived as the auditory equivalent of visualization. It is the process of rendering a specific sound field audible through the convolution of anechoic sounds with the impulse response of a specific environment.

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