Walkability and Noise

With disturbing amount of area devoted to motorised transportation as highways, parking lots, and freight terminal—the  central parts of Bergen offer challenging, polluting, and noisy conditions for the pedestrian.

In a sense the car has become a prosthetic, and though prosthetics are usually for injured or missing limbs, the auto-prosthetic is for a conceptually impaired body or a body impaired by the creation of a world that is no longer human in scale.
Rebecca Solnit

The parallels between Solnit’s uncovering of the “impaired body” and the city centre of Bergen—especially around Nygårdstangen, are sadly disturbing. Pedestrian spaces are cut off by highways and parking lots. Consequently, the amount of noise pollution generated here negatively affects the surroundings. Among the primary objectives of this master studio, one is to investigate what it means to improve walkability. While doing so implicates a vast range of different strategies and efforts depending on the situation—focusing this project on sound and traffic noise, has provided a set of underlying aims, tools and potentials that seek to envision a transformed urban soundscape, inviting pedestrians to walk.

Human beings possess the fight–or–flight response, a psychological reaction releasing adrenaline and cortisol. Loud noises are rare in nature and usually related to something dangerous about to approach, in contrast to natural sounds from the wind blowing, water falling, rivers flowing or birds chirping. A growing body of research draw links between noise and adverse health effects, it is increasingly recognised as a public health issue.

Noise can lead to different conditions varying from annoyance, distraction, stress and sleep deprivation to more serious issues such as hearing impairment and cardiovascular diseases. Excessive exposure to noise has also been linked to negative effects on children and their cognitive impairment. Noise from transportation is today the most prevalent form of environmental noise and road traffic being its most common source. Since the 1970s, acoustic conditions have improved significantly for the driver inside the vehicle. Whereas external noise has not gained similar attention.

Given the amplitude and range of harmful health effects of environmental noise, there is an urgency and great need for reducing noise pollution, to protect the health and well-being of people and improving their quality of life. The chosen research territory, remaining a hot spot for noise pollution while providing inconvenient  walking conditions for pedestrians—appear thus as a relevant starting point for architectural interventions.

Following a study of the traditional English landscape garden—in this case, Harewood, ideas intrinsic to the picturesque gave inspiration later on during the semester. The approaches and paths around Harewood are formed as asymmetrically connected scenic drives. These generate a cinematographic composition, much like an urban circulation pattern. Through a rhizomatic working method and digital collage; the focus in this survey seeks to capture the liminal experience of moving from an enclosed spatial condition (the forest) to a more open (meadow).

Site of interest defined by encircled area; Nygårdstangen, a small peninsula on the southern end of the city center of Bergen, of which is mostly occupied by three major highways meeting at the interchange. The traffic load is represented through line weights and level of opacity.

The great difference between the Chinese scholar-artist and Renaissance scholar-artist is this: if the Chinese scholar-artist had a garden [...] he would want to walk in it, so he would make his path so that he’d have a longer walk. So he walks up the path of his garden and then goes and makes a picture of that garden, or the experience of walking in it. But the Renaissance scholar sits in a room and looks out of a window, and then makes his picture. He is fixed there with the window picture, and therefore he thinks of perspective. The Chinese wouldn’t because their experience is moving, flowing, as time is flowing. And so they both start off with very different locations; one is seated and the other is not.

David Hockney

Photographs were taken while moving around the research territory during different times of the day,  weather, and light conditions. In a rather subjective manner, but in David Hockney spirit—the montage aims to reflect the distinctive and contrasting operations and movements occurring in the area. Concurrently, the photographic fragments from various angles and vantage points, collectively seeks to capture the atmospheric qualities of the surroundings as whole. 

Subsequent to  the collage workshop, a series of animated time lapses in a montage was produced. These aim to capture the conditions in the preciding collage in a rather active way. The camera locations were  mapped and are shown in the following drawing.

[...] If we stop one ear (which is best done by a plug of sealing wax moulded into the form of the entrance of the ear), and apply a resonator to the other, most of the tones produced in the surrounding air will be considerably damped; but if the proper tone of the resonator is sounded, it brays into the ear most powerfully. […] The proper tone of the resonator may even be sometimes heard cropping up in the whistling of the wind, the rattling of carriage wheels, the splashing of water.
Herman Helmholtz

The interest for acoustics really took off after being introduced to the Helmholtz resonator—consisting of a rigid container of a known volume, nearly spherical, with a small neck and hole in one end and a larger hole in the other end to emit the sound, this apparatus can pick out specific frequencies from a complex sound.

The level of noise reduction is directly related to the volume of the cavity and the size of the neck, thus being able to easily control and adjust these aspects would render a tunable resonator. Utilising the flexible capabilities of an origami structure could, therefore, be applied here. Origami tessellations themselves possess latent capabilities in response to sound, while simultaneously holding interesting spatial potentials.

Fortunately, a bulk of the research on the tuneable origami resonator was already conducted by students at the University of Bourgogne Franche-Comté. Taking benefit from the research and adding some custom modifications to it, proved being fruitful. 

As a working method, constructing proto-architecture directly associated with human senses during a research phase—in this case, a resonator—offered not only a captivating and rewarding way of learning more about acoustics but also introduced new directions and paths for the project to move through.

Raw recording without utilizing the resonator. 

In half open/folded state the resonator is able to filter out a great portion of the background noise, thus making some higher frequency sounds more noticeable.

In an open/unfolded state (maximum volume), the resonater manages to crop up certain sounds; footsteps on gravel at 0:26, the talking occuring right after, and the bird chirping. 

Running simulations to understand the acoustic properties of the origami tesselations such as reverberation. The results show how local acoustic conditions could potentially be improved; for instance making it easier to hold conversations in a noisy urban environment. Conceivably, depending on choice of material along with a layered build up of panels with air in-between (against the exterior), the absorption coefficiency could be further improved. 


  1. Solnit, Rebecca. Wanderlust. New York: Granta Books, (2014).
  2. Murphy, Enda, and Eoin King. Environmental Noise Pollution. Burlington: Elsevier, (2014), 126.
  3. David Hockney,Hockney on photography: Conversations with Paul Joyce, (1988).
  4. Helmholtz, Hermann. On the Sensations of Tone. London: Longmans, Green, and Co, (1895).
  5. Benouhiba, Amine, Kanty Rabenorosoa, Morvan Ouisse, and Nicolas Andreff. An Origami-Based Tunable Helmholtz Resonator for Noise Control: Introduction of the Concept and Preliminary Results, Vol. 1, 2017. doi:10.1115/SMASIS2017-3747.