Acoustic noise barriers and sustainable landscape architecture

Would residents and drivers rather have the acoustic noise or the visual noise?

Would residents and drivers rather have the acoustic noise or the visual noise?

Flickr has a good slection of photographs of noise barriers – but not many of them are structures one would want to have at the foot of one’s garden, except perhaps for the purpose of reducing noise nuisance. The Wiki entry on noise barriers states simply that: “A noise barrier (also called a soundwall, sound berm, sound barrier, or acoustical barrier) is an exterior structure designed to protect sensitive land uses from noise pollution.”  It’s not enough. Noise barriers should also contribute to other objectives and help make ‘new landscapes for our new lives’ (Nan Fairbrother) which are beautiful, sustainable, microclimat, ecological etc. If sustainable landscape architecture is to have the glorious future it deserves, the results must be beautiful as well as useful. For more information on the landscape treatment of noise barriers see:  Environmental Noise Barriers by  Benz Kotzen Colin English.

Image of  North Laurel – MD216 approaching Leishear Rd courtesy of  thisisboss.

33 thoughts on “Acoustic noise barriers and sustainable landscape architecture

  1. Christine

    They look great in the illustrations – however I don’t remember any street in Hong Kong that looked anything like the illustration! So I wonder how well the illustrations would match reality?

  2. Christine

    All very interesting examples….and definitely more sensitive to context! I have also been wondering about the potential to use green walls in this context? [Creating a green art gallery perhaps, suitable for viewing by cars at x km/hr on the roadside and by someone on foot on the residential side?]

  3. Benz

    In most situations there is an opportunity to use vegetation. Even in very tight situations ivy (Hedera helix and Parthenocissus spp.) will be able to be established. Planting also has the advantage of trapping air pollution/dust and on the non-noise side being valuable for wildlife.

  4. Benz

    I am not quite sure what we are looking at here. It almost looks like a photomontage of an idea for a barrier. if you send me the photo at a higher resolution, i think I would be able to tell you.

  5. Benz

    Yes, looks like a competition entry. Plants and transparent barrier parts on the whole don’t mix too well as there can be a conflict between form and function. Where it will work is where the planting is designed not to interfere with the transparent sections (where it is kept low, contained…)

  6. Christine

    The ‘modern movement’ concern with the relationship between form and function constantly needs revisiting. Form and function also have a relationship to context….

    Perhaps this is something we should explore further?

  7. Benz

    Of course, but there is no point in having an environmental noise barrier if 1) it does not mitigate noise, 2) If it in itself it causes worse problems, 3) it is designed to be transparent for good reasons and then its transparency is obscured by planting ….

  8. Benz

    When designing all Environmental Noise Barriers (ENBs) planting should be considered as an integral part. The only examples where planting is usually ill considered is where barriers need to be transparent and on bridges/viaducts which is often where planting needs to be transparent. Barriers without planting are often ‘naked ugly’ and are a big mistake. (Naked can of course be beautiful but most barriers without planting are the reverse.) The point is that when deciding on the width of land required for a barrier, one should consider the land for planting needed to integrate the barrier. This means when comparing widths between earth mound with planting and a vertical bund with planting the widths come closer together. Of course it is possible to use engineered solutions, with vertical or near vertical walls with integrated planting which will then take up much less room. Did you also know that a bund (earth mound) is partially absorptive, whilst a reflective barrier is obviously not, which means the mound could be lower. However this can be negated because the face of the earth mound is further from the noise source than a vertical screen.

  9. Tom Turner

    I’m puzzled why they don’t make more use of gabions for noise barriers. The infill could be soil, as well as rubble, and if planted they could become like Devon field walls.

  10. Benz

    There are some good examples of this. In the wrong place gabions can be pretty ugly. The problem with gabions, is expense (local stone is required) and expertise and if the wall and if freestanding restricted height as the base becomes larger as the scale increases.

  11. Christine

    On a recent car trip with ENB’s suddenly higher in my conscious awareness I noticed how entirely ‘walled’ in the experience was….almost from the point of departure to the point of destination!

    More inventive solutions to the problems that car travel (and other forms of transportation) cretate are desparately needed…

  12. Tom Turner

    A friend argues that cars SHOULD be allowed to drive through Greenwich Park, as they can during the morning and evening rush hours, because there are more motorists than walkers at these times and the motorists get a lot of pleasure from seeing the park. Applied to Environmental Noise Barriers, this would be an argument for NOT building them in many places. Even see-through noise barriers interrupt views and if cost-benefit calculations were done, I guess few noise barriers would pass the test. But I am still in favour of them, because I love the sound of silence – and I would also ban all cars from Greenwich Park at all times. As Jane Jacobs said, one of the objectives of urban design is the attrition of motor vehicles by cities.

  13. Christine

    But does it need to be so? Why can’t we have noise reduction, renewable energy (ie. wind turbines)
    [ ] and beauty as well?

    Vic Roads has and is constructing a gallery of examples of innovative noise barriers….but for the most part sadly…being the exception rather than the rule, it is concrete walls almost all the way! [ ]

  14. Benz

    Energy production has been reviewed for many years now as part of ENB’s. the largest solar array 1km, is along a motorway at Freising outside of Munich. Wind power is a possibility but largely untested. Reducing air pollution which is most critical in urban areas is being tested at the moment mainly in the Netherlands

  15. Amber

    I agree that concrete walls are NOT the way! Of course function can not be compromised but it must be achieved in tandem with a successful aesthetic design.

    One of my favourite examples of noise reduction is at the Musee Quai Branly, Paris. A picture of it can be found here: within an article on Jean Nouvel.

    It’s success is in simplicity. It is an un-imposing backdrop to the Museum’s garden and effectively reduces noise from the adjacent motorway. The garden has an unexpected feeling of sanctuary, magical almost when looking at the ‘thinness’ of the wall.

  16. Tom Turner

    I agree: it is very simple and very non-intrusive in the urban environment. Structures like this could work well on the Victoria Embankment. We need to apply context theory to decide when acoustic barriers should be Similar, Identical or Different to their settings. Some of the innovative examples are great but there are not too many places where I would want them to be built.

  17. Benz

    The best ENB’s are those that are not generally recognised as ENB’s. Take the promenade at Park de Bercy. A perfect example of an ENB functioning to mitigate noise into the park from the dual carriageways of ‘Quai de Bercy’ but also providing a place for promenade, a place for fountains (which also mask noise), a place for sculpture, sitting…

  18. Alison

    Where fast busy noisy roads pass close to the ears/lungs of citizens (mostly between population centres), we should be designing alternative energy production that doubles as an ENB then triples as an air cleaner and also looks amazing.
    Where slow busy smelly roads (ie inside population centres) pass close to citizens they should be closed/re-routed/buried/access only!
    When new fast roads are being designed they should be designed with all their environmental impacts being mitigated by design (noise and air pollution) and should additionally give back to society/nature (some way to have net environmental gain).

  19. Tom Turner

    The conclusion I have reached is that the focus should be on making Quiet Areas, rather than on “Barriers” but I most certainly agree that any barriers which are built should be multi-purpose. I see this as one of the cardinal principles of landscape planning.

  20. Amber

    I agree about the concept of quiet areas too, I would have attended the recent conference on Tranquil Spaces (re: EU Directive on Environmental Noise), by the Mayor of London’s Office if I hadn’t had classes – however I don’t know how valuable it would have been.
    Building Design online provide a review
    said that the rsearch present was thought provoking but the Aviation Environmental Federation
    found the conference ‘tedious’ except for the final speaker who forwarded that the Eu should opt out of the directive so that resources are used to do something about noise, rather than research it, as virtually nothing being done at the moment.

  21. Benz

    Without EU directives and muscle we would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle. UK governments in the past and present do not care about noise, where it is apparently obvious that the governments in many EU countries do and have done so for many years. What happens in the UK regarding actual noise reduction is miniscule compared to what is achieved in noisy environments in most EU countries. Why is this? I don’t really know, but I think it has mainly to do with the public’s apathy in general and because there is no ‘champion’ or ‘Tzar’ to tackle the subject. Can I also say that this discussion would not occur in the developing world. Noise is not an issue. People are not going to put money into noise mitigation when basic services are missing and people are dying because of this. So what we are talking about here is more or less a luxury, although for me an important luxury. The principle that the polluter pays should be held to and thus if road, rail and air traffic increase noise levels, then these ‘industries’ should pay: in the first instance to provide solutions where noise does not become a problem and secondly where it is already a problem steps should be taken to reduce the noise to acceptable levels. If this cannot be achieved then the road, rail and air services should be shut down.

  22. christine

    Most international agreements refer to the principle of technology transfer. If wealthy countries did not spend money on developing technology to overcome problems of the environment, human health and human settlement etc there would be nothing to share with poorer countries…

  23. Paul scott

    I live close to the scarp slope (25-32 degrees) of the south downs which comprise of bowl-like coombes and with the right wind, ghost trains from three miles away echo hauntingly at night. On such a large scale landscape echo is there an optimum position to hear it. Is it neccesarily on the ground. Could the same effects be heard if significantly elevated ? Regards.

    1. Tom Turner

      Sound waves spread like ripples in a pool of water, but in three dimensions. A bowl tends to act like a funnel, directing the sound waves to the rim. If there are environmental barriers beside a road they will direct the sound waves upward. If the road is elevated, without sound barriers, the sound will travel both down and up – but it will not be concentrated if there is no bowl. It would be intersting to walk along the route of the railway line with a sound level meter and take readings for different landscape configurations.


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