Tranquillity of external spaces / influence of acoustic and visual factors

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Architectural Studies


Despite still having around 27,000 public parks and gardens the number of tranquil spaces in the UK is becoming seriously compromised and has prompted systematic research into tranquillity mapping and the identification and protection of Quiet Areas. A systematic study into factors affecting tranquility is urgently needed in response to the European Directive on the Assessment and Management of Environmental Noise (END). Although defining quiet areas in accordance with the END using purely acoustical measures is an important step in protecting tranquil spaces, there is a need to go further and integrate both aural and visual factors into an overall descriptor that will be sufficiently precise and practical. There have been several attempts to study the cross-modal interaction and the link between the perceived degree of noise annoyance and specific visual settings. However, the relevant importance of visual and auditory stimuli for the construction of a tranquil space is far from being understood. The purpose of this work is to complete a detailed investigation on how the auditory and visual stimuli influence the perception of tranquillity in order to develop robust design tools for use in designing and protecting tranquil spaces in urban and rural locations. A unique feature of this project is the focused attempt to determine the bimodal estimate of tranquillity for a combined audiovisual scene. For this purpose a coherent team of optometry and acoustics experts has been assembled. The proposed work is a combination of field data collection and laboratory analysis. The work aims to achieve better understanding of the effects of visual and audio stimuli on the perception of tranquillity of rural and urban landscapes, refine a newly proposed engineering tool for the design of external tranquil spaces with a highly variable audio and visual characteristics and to provide multi-disciplinary training for MSc/PhD students, research and academic staff. For the first time a systematic work on the multisensory perception of tranquillity of external spaces affected by sounds will be examined using avanced method of integration of information. A representative range of locations will be identified at which audio and visual recordings will be taken based on a previously obtained database of landscape types. Special software will be developed to analyse objectively the termporal and spectral characteristics of the recordings. The recorded data will be also analysed using a representative number of subjects recruited for the new tests. Two unique psycho-acoustic suites available at the Universities of Bradford and Sheffield will be used for these experiments. The dependent variables will include an overall rating of tranquillity and the independent variables will include noise descriptors, sound quality indicators and visual parameters such as the space occupied by natural features in the scene and the number of people present. The results of the objective measurements and the subjective experiments will be merged with the existing tranquillity assessment database and analysed using appropriate software. A unique outdoor area (Peace Garden) on campus has been recently developed. This facility will be used to conduct experiments on tranquillity to test the developed design tool. The creation of the garden which is nearing completion was a result of a joint effort between various Schools at the Universities of Bradford and Sheffield who foresaw its use for a variety of research purposes including studies of tranquillity. The work will involve MSc/PhD students who study courses in Engineering, Life Sciences and Multimedia.


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