How virtual reality technologies can enable better soundscape design.

W.M. To –
Macao Polytechnic Institute, Macao SAR, China.
A. Chung –
Smart City Maker, Denmark.
B. Schulte-Fortkamp –
Technische Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Popular version of paper 2aNS, “How virtual reality technologies can enable better soundscape design”
Presented Tuesday morning, November 29, 2016
172nd ASA Meeting, Honolulu

The quality of life including good sound quality has been sought by community members as part of the smart city initiative. While many governments have placed special attention to waste management, air and water pollution, acoustic environment in cities has been directed toward the control of noise, in particular, transportation noise. Governments that care about the tranquility in cities rely primarily on setting the so-called acceptable noise levels i.e. just quantities for compliance and improvement [1]. Sound quality is most often ignored. Recently, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released the standard on soundscape [2]. However, sound quality is a subjective matter and depends heavily on the perception of humans in different contexts [3]. For example, China’s public parks are well known to be rather noisy in the morning due to the activities of boisterous amateur musicians and dancers – many of them are retirees and housewives – or “Da Ma” [4]. These activities would cause numerous complaints if they would happen in other parts of the world, but in China it is part of everyday life.

According to the ISO soundscape guideline, people can use sound walks, questionnaire surveys, and even lab tests to determine sound quality during a soundscape design process [3]. With the advance of virtual reality technologies, we believe that the current technology enables us to create an application that immerses designers and stakeholders in the community to perceive and compare changes in sound quality and to provide feedback on different soundscape designs. An app has been developed specifically for this purpose. Figure 1 shows a simulated environment in which a student or visitor arrives the school’s campus, walks through the lawn, passes a multifunctional court, and get into an open area with table tennis tables. She or he can experience different ambient sounds and can click an object to increase or decrease the volume of sound from that object. After hearing sounds at different locations from different sources, the person can evaluate the level of acoustic comfort at each location and express their feelings toward overall soundscape.  She or he can rate the sonic environment based on its degree of perceived loudness and its level of pleasantness using a 5-point scale from 1 = ‘heard nothing/not at all pleasant’ to 5 = ‘very loud/pleasant’. Besides, she or he shall describe the acoustic environment and soundscape using free words because of the multi-dimensional nature of sonic environment.

Figure 1. A simulated soundwalk in a school campus.

  1. To, W. M., Mak, C. M., and Chung, W. L.. Are the noise levels acceptable in a built environment like Hong Kong? Noise and Health, 2015. 17(79): 429-439.
  2. ISO. ISO 12913-1:2014 Acoustics – Soundscape – Part 1: Definition and Conceptual Framework, Geneva: International Organization for Standardization, 2014.
  3. Kang, J. and Schulte-Fortkamp, B. (Eds.). Soundscape and the Built Environment, CRC Press, 2016.
  4. Buckley, C. and Wu, A. In China, the ‘Noisiest Park in the World’ Tries to Tone Down Rowdy Retirees,, from , 2016.


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