Soundscapes, Architecture and Territory Regeneration
Sustainable Approaches to Intangible Heritage towards an Ecological Transition
Practice-based research project (on going). Gerês UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Braga UNESCO Creative City, Portugal.
The ecological disruptions of the environment are only the visible part of a deeper and larger problem, concerning ways of living and being in society on this planet. The environmental ecology should be thought of as one piece with a social ecology and mental ecology, through an ecosophy of ethical-political nature. It is not to unify arbitrarily under an ideology of replacement of areas fundamentally heterogeneous, but to be underpinned by some other innovative practices for the restructuring of individual and collective subjectivities within new technical-scientific contexts and new geopolitical coordinates. (Guattari 1989)
This project responds to UNESCO’s call 'Protecting our Heritage and Fostering Creativity', as foundations for vibrant, healthy, inclusive, innovative, prosperous societies. The project focus on the advancement of sustainable relationships between the heritage of soundscapes and architecture. Soundscapes can be valuable tools to intervene in everyday space and society, restore healthy lives, promote well-being and sustainable uses of ecosystems. As the sound environment is an increasingly central topic of concern, it becomes valorised as an element to plan and design. This project’s innovation is to go beyond measures of acoustic insulation which tend to separate ecosystems and reduce our experience of natural and cultural diversity. It aims to foster a new culture of architectural projects based on the sensory experience of soundscapes, as a step before design and construction. This transdisciplinary approach embraces the fields of architecture, acoustic ecology, bioacoustics, archaeoacoustics, science and technology. It will advance sustainable integrations of the soundscapes’ heritage into creative strategies and participatory tools, to plan and design territories’ regeneration.
Since ancient civilisations, architecture integrated sound and acoustics with sensorial, social and cultural purposes. Archaeoacoustics studies revealed that spaces were built with knowledge of particular sonic effects and its consequences (Devereux 2001): from megalithic chambers (Newgrange, c. 3200 BC, IE), to reverberant water channels (Chavin De Huantar, c.900-200 BC, PE), to more recent temples (Charola of Convent of Christ, 1520, PT). Nowadays, we rarely identify consciously the essential role sound and acoustics plays in daily life. But soundscapes shape our sensory experience of the world and social practices. The phenomena of sound is underestimated, causing substantial damage in cities, which are becoming saturated with poor quality acoustic experiences (Leitner 1998, 293). In general architectural practice, sound is only addressed from a technical approach in mainly two ways: as an acoustic prediction in extraordinary spaces (such as music halls); or as an acoustic correction with insulation techniques for noise control. There is a need for innovative, creative and sustainable interconnections between soundscapes and architecture.
Research plan and methods
Sound is a powerful indicator of environmental degradation and an effective tool for developing more sustainable ecosystems. Sound, like the environment, is becoming increasingly contaminated with unwanted noise which has a detrimental effect on our well-being (La Rue 2017). Addressing sound with only acoustic insulation techniques does not solve the origin of the problem, as it tends to separate the human being from its primary sensory environment. It reflects in landscape, heritage and territory, with an increasing homogenisation of the sensory qualities of space and elimination of existing differences. This lack of diversity (natural, cultural) is an evident sign of degradation of territories and life. UNESCO’s Sound Charter has made the sound environment a societal priority. A soundscape approach is urgent to consider the sound environment as an important resource in design (De Coensel et al 2010) as it allows to tackle patterns of change in time (day, night, season), to apprehend a place’s dynamics, potentials, and turn us insiders and participants. Therefore, a new culture of architectural projects is needed based on the experience of the sound environment in early design stages. My project addresses this gap in knowledge: a lack of methods to integrate the experience of soundscapes into architecture. Thus, the question I address is:
- How to account on the experience of soundscapes, to plan and design sustainable, creative and participatory architecture, towards sensorial, environmental and territorial regenerations?
My approach is to develop a transdisciplinary research based in practical case studies. It embraces architecture, acoustic ecology, archaeoacoustics, natural science, social science, and the creative potential of bioacoustics monitoring methods, used to record environmental patterns of change through sound. The case studies will address Portuguese northern territories: the city of Braga and the rural area of Terras de Bouro, in the National Park Peneda-Geres, known as Geres. Braga is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, and has identified creativity in media arts as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. Geres is part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, defined as learning sites for sustainable development, Science for Sustainability support sites, special places for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understand and manage changes and interactions between social and ecological systems.
This project seeks to enhance the value of the experience of soundscapes within the planning and design of territories. According to research on European Acoustic Heritage (Kytöet al 2012, 10), paying attention to this aspect of urbanism helps in attaching new sustainable qualities to our living spaces. The soundscape has also an educational dimension as it means learning to listen better. Therefore this project aims to:
- advance knowledge of soundscapes’ heritage as creative future-making and effective tool to develop sustainable uses of ecosystems;
- further new approaches to architecture and urban project, based on the experience and representation of soundscapes, into the regeneration of territories;
- encourage active community participation in listening to soundscapes, to raise awareness on its value for environmental health and well-being.
The tasks to achieve the aims unfold around three axis: experience, creativity, participation. A transdisciplinary methodology involves different approaches: fieldwork, studio work, workshops and networks.
1. Experience: Field Work
- Bioacoustic monitoring, mapping, soundwalking, recording seasonal soundscapes.
- Detect acoustic signatures in relation to frequencies’ patterns of change in natural and human activities.
- Identify sound effects resulted from natural features, architectural and urban configurations, activities.
2. Creativity: Studio Work
- Organise and process the collected data for further research, creative and educational purposes; study data with researchers from different fields.
- Build new representations of landscapes through the acoustic spectrum, with links between vibrational phenomena, activities, behaviours.
- Produce sets of design strategies, participatory and educational tools, that integrate creatively the soundscapes’ outputs.
3. Participation: Workshops and Networks
- Involve communities in workshops of soundwalking and listening to soundscapes, to understand how its quality affects us, how we use and transform ecosystems.
- Facilitate workshops to build collectively soundscape architecture prototypes; evaluate the experiments with public surveys.
- Collaborate with networks to disseminate activities: publications, presentations, events' organisation.
The time planning has two phases:
I. develop and implement the full methodology;
II. replicate the methodology contextually in different places, in collaborative projects, locally and globally.
The expected outcomes are:
- Recognition of soundscapes’ heritage as an important resource to analyse, understand, represent, plan and design territories’ transformations.
- Original representations of the diversity of specific landscapes and territories through the use of sound; content archived as open source data, particularly useful for further investigation in science, arts and humanities.
- Sets of creative strategies and tools based in soundscapes’ outputs.
- Horizontal knowledge making, communities participation into planning, designing and building.
- Implementation of creative strategies using soundscapes as a driving force for urban regenerations in the city of Braga, to restore quality and well-being in daily life.
- Fostering soundscape practices in Geres Biosphere Reserve, to reinforce scientific research, awareness, conservation of heritage, management of diversity, towards human and economic sustainable rural development.
I will also organise the following activities of dissemination:
- An annual international conference, gatherings, masterclasses, workshops, a publication, as transdisciplinary platforms to share outcomes, methods, practices, develop partnerships, and gain exposure among different audiences.
- Collaborative projects with international networks.