Place-making Through Sound: Designing for Inclusivity and Wellbeing

Lead Research Organisation: City, University of London
Department Name: School of Arts


In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the aesthetic soundscapes of public architecture beyond questions of structural acoustics and environmental noise management. This has emerged from increased awareness of the importance of sound, and sensory environments more generally, in the production of urban space and in generating affective connections between people and place. Parallel to this have been increasingly urgent discussions around access and inclusivity in relation to a number of factors, including but not limited to 'race', class, age and disability. The proposed research and innovation project brings together these two imperatives in order to examine the role of sound as an agent of inclusion and wellbeing. The project addresses the following interrelated questions:

(i) What is the potential and value of curated sound in place-making and community building and how are architects and designers approaching this?

(ii) How are notions of inclusivity and wellbeing understood within the architectural design sector? What might more inclusive design processes look like and do current building standards on sound appropriately address issues of community, belonging and wellbeing?

(iii) How might sound be deployed to widen access and to make public spaces feel more welcoming and less as 'reserved for others' (Sara Ahmed)? What are the mechanisms by which underrepresented communities can be involved as co-producers of public space and what are the barriers to such approaches?

(iv) What can be learnt from the questions above that would enable architects to create connections between environmental noise management and curated sound in order to enhance inclusivity and wellbeing.

The project lies at the intersection of community and social architecture and design, sound and music studies, and urban studies. To date discussions around inclusivity and wellbeing in architectural design have tended to focus on physical access in relation to disability. The project aims to explore and extend ideas about what inclusivity and wellbeing mean in relation to the built sonic environment and to connect these to questions of place-making and belonging.

The PI will work with award-winning architectural design consultancy Charcoalblue, primarily with the acoustics team, to develop more inclusive design practices in relation to sound. She will also acquire new skills, knowledge and expertise in architecture and acoustics, including specialist training. One of the sector challenges that the project will address and seek to find solutions for is the relative lack of dialogue between creative sound design, technical acoustic work and building implementation. The research will focus on case studies to include three projects that Charcoalblue will be working on in 2023-24 and that include curated sound: the redevelopment of Smithfield Market (Birmingham), renewal and extension of cultural spaces at the Barbican Centre (London) and Melbourne Arts Centre (Australia).

The PI will conduct interviews with architects and other built environment professionals, artists (in performance spaces), audiences and other relevant publics in order to access a range of views and practices on designing for inclusivity and wellbeing. Project outputs will be: refereed journal article (c10,000 words) jointly authored with Charcoalblue Associate Director Luca Dellatore; (ii) project website on curated sound and inclusive design; (iii) extended report (c15,000 words) on the wider research findings, setting out guidance in relation to public sound, inclusivity and wellbeing. Among the benefits to the partner will be creating opportunities for Charcoalblue to develop more inclusive design practices and offer new services to clients in the UK and globally. The wider aim is to promote an architectural sector more alive to the multi-sensory potential of spatial design and to deliver global leadership in design for inclusivity and wellbeing.


10 25 50