Soaring potential: positive soundscaping in airports.

Adams Face

Adam Scott, Senior Acoustics Engineer

How acoustic design can increase wellbeing & revenue.

How did you feel when you were last in an airport? Were you relaxed, agitated, excited?

Often these spaces can be overwhelming on the senses. With potent perfumes, security scanners, and survey requests paired with flight anxiety, they can be notoriously stressful.

While your experience could have been affected by many things – delays, grouchy travel companions, excessive queues, heavy suitcases – the design of the airport environment will also have played a factor.

In these spaces, the impact of acoustics often goes unnoticed, and its real value is rarely understood.

When it comes to the acoustics of an airport, there’s a variety of ways we can influence the passenger experience.

The standard practice for acoustic consultants in building services is to minimise the adverse effects of noise. However, noise can never be truly removed, just controlled. Equally, to function according to their purpose, some spaces will never be quiet.

We can only minimise the negative aspects of sound, and subsequently this exposes other unfavourable noises which are beyond our control. Often, environmental design overlooks the holistic aspects of acoustics. This means that sound’s influence on the subconscious, and overall user experience can go ignored.

One step further.

Sound systems in airports are designed for announcements to be clear. Good acoustics minimise the adverse effects of ambient noise, which is conducive to reduced stress.

However, positive soundscaping uses psychoacoustics and musical composition to take these elements one step further. It utilises the way that different characteristics of sound can benefit people’s health and wellbeing, as well as influence how they make purchases in a retail environment.

By introducing designed sound, we can have a more profound influence on a space. For example, we can use this principle to add elements that make a space calmer and mask specific sounds, rather than simply reducing noise from the sources we can control.

For building design, true success lies in tapping into the desires of human beings. People will always gravitate to places that make them feel good.

Creating spaces that attract people and make them feel good has huge value. In an airport passenger are likely to want to feel relaxed or energised, depending on the area and their circumstances. Using this principle, the sound environment should be tailored to the area and vary according to the occupants.

So how can sound positively influence people’s perception of a space?

Small alterations to a sound climate are shown to have significant effects:

– Exposure to natural sound is shown to promote relaxation.

– Positioning audio content strategically can manipulate the paths people take when walking.

– Tempo and familiarity can influence dwell time.

Combining these tools can influence the behaviours of passengers and generally improve well-being by creating a more pleasing environment that people enjoy being in and gravitate towards. This, in turn, means we get more passengers sat on the plane feeling positive about the experience they’ve just had.

However, whilst soundscaping can be used to influence passenger behaviour for commercial gain, designs should be user focused. It’s our responsibility to look after the occupants of the buildings we design.