Sonic Urban Morphologies: Towards Modelling Aural Spatial Patterns for Urban Space Designers

Urban spaces are predominantly designed through visual sensory manipulation. Every urban space has a unique aural signature. However, except for noise control analysis, for the most part, sound, as an urban design attribute, is neglected. The only field that is concerned with the acoustic qualities of urban spaces is the interdisciplinary field of Soundscape. Soundscape, as a field and a term, was originally defined as a relationship between the ear, human beings, sonic environment and society. The concept is based on physical parameters as well as on the perceptual and cognitive restrictions (Schafer, 1977/1993; Truax, 1974). Until recently, the focus of the majority of soundscape design practice is the documentation and preservation of the urban sounds through audio recordings, which has largely remained within the conceptual realm of music studios. As psychologists and acoustic engineers became more interested in soundscape research, the consideration of sound quality gained traction. However, the analysis is heavily based on emotional response to soundscape audio tracks in laboratories. Evidence suggests that the human brain evolved to respond immediately and instinctively to sound through physiological processes, which indicates that fidelity of aural stimuli is the most significant parameter in creating an accurate spatial mental map. In recent years, there has been a broad recognition of the contribution that sound perception makes to spatial comprehension of the built (and natural environment) and the unique qualities of cities. Acoustic ecology surveying projects were conducted for Vancouver and Japanese cities, where the general public was prompted to nominate important soundscapes elements that deserve preserving. These projects were initiated by Schafer in 1973 and Japanese Association for Sound Ecology and the Japanese Environment Protection Agency in 1996, respectively. However, the
process of designing the aural spatial signature of urban open spaces has been limited. This is because spatial designers (architects, urban and event designers) lack adequate design concepts and metrics to integrate acoustic sensory aspects into the design process of urban space. With the exception of specialised design cases of acoustical performance in auditoria, architectural preliminary design practises seldom consider acoustic sensory manipulation. The connection between soundscape and spatial design is limited to rare theoretical occurrences that offer theories that align with well-established, as well as, new architectural concepts. For example, the originally biological term morphology is a concept that is adopted in both fields, soundscape and urban design, that results from emergent behaviours of the inhabiting organisms (including humans). In urban design, it is the study of how the individual units (buildings and streets) derive form and structure of urban patterns, which are have a reciprocal relationship with the social structure and information flow through the infrastructure. Applied to soundscape, the term signifies the changes in groups of sounds with similar forms and functions in relation to their relative locations, and the resulting information flow and stochastic behaviour interface between acoustic domains. Moreover, there is a new adjunct theory developed to relate sound (scape) to spatial design, namely Aural Architecture. However, these intersecting theories have not been integrated into architectural and urban design practices. This research investigates the potential for creating a tool that integrates the theoretical spatial and soundscape design connections, to aid spatial designers when considering sound as a primary driver for urban design. The investigation is founded on establishing a relationship between aural architecture theories and the urban spatial experience and design. It also explores the merging of spatial and acoustical computational approaches, through integrating the physical/mathematical representation of sound to the mapping of the spatial envelopes and phenomena of human aural responses. The key research contribution is the development and calibration of a computational design and decision-aiding tool that can predict qualitative patterns of aural spatial perception, and translate them into spatial attributes within a modelled urban space. The tool combines known urban modelling techniques with established acoustic simulation methods to produce qualitative aural spatial patterns that can aid architects (urban and event designer) to incorporate acoustic sensory manipulation during the preliminary design phase.

Merate Barakat came to the Architectural Association School of Architecture in 2009 after working PMA (Prescott Muir Architects). PMA is an architectural office based in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she worked on numerous projects that have received design AIA (American Institute of Architects) awards. While she was working on her dissertation, she completed the NCARB requirements and became an architect licensed to work in North America. She is also licensed to work as an Architect in Egypt and the Middle East. Merate has received an MArch from the University of Utah in 2006, where she worked as research assistance at the CROMDI lab. She also holds an MSc in Computer Science and Information Technology from the University of Nottingham, obtained in 2003. Her BSc thesis conducted at the Arab Academy of Science in Technology, Alexandria - Egypt Campus, received an AbuGad award for merit. In tandem with her research, Merate initiated the AA Alexandria Visiting School, a workshop in collaboration with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The University of Utah, College of Architecture and planning offered her an Adjunct Professor position during her last two years where she intermittently teaches an MArch session studio. Both the workshop and the MArch studio are set up with a focus of generative and responsive sound based designs. Merate was born in Logan-Utah and lived between Alexandria and the USA, before moving to London to conduct her Ph.D. dissertation.

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Merate Barakat