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HFT meets IBA – Urban Acoustics

Noise and sound in the city – healthy living despites spatial consolidation?

The lecture series HFT meets IBA presents innovative solutions for sustainable solutions in the region of Stuttgart

Noise and noises in the city

Healthy living despite densification?

In the urban area, construction is becoming more and more dense due to the demand for housing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), urban noise can pose a health risk to people, and local authorities, planning and research are facing new challenges. How will we live with noise and noises in urban areas in the future? Experts from politics, administration, environmental protection, research and urban planning discussed these questions in the second event of "HFT meets IBA". The entire series is carried out by the M4_LAB of the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences (HFT) in cooperation with Wirtschaftsregion Stuttgart GmbH (WRS) and IBA'27 GmbH (IBA).

"Our task is actually to solve the noise problems and to ensure that the noise problems do not arise at all," said Dr. Udo Weese, head of the noise protection department in the Ministry of Transport Baden-Württemberg in his welcoming address. However, he added that noise protection in the field of road traffic was not a success story. Today, construction is taking place in areas that would have been avoided ten years ago. The trend towards densification requires new thinking and new solutions, Weese said. "What I miss in the discussion about compacted space is evaluation. I would like to know what a successful example of compaction is - directly on the road and on the rail. I would like to know what is good so that I can learn from it," he said. He hoped that urban planning and noise protection would come together in interdisciplinary cooperation rather than being at loggerheads. "We shouldn't just plan things out, we should solve problems." Small-scale planning is necessary, there are no off-the-peg solutions here.

Tools for urban planning: noise maps and simulations

Alexander Lee, researcher in the field of acoustics at the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences (HFT), gave an insight into the university's research projects. Researchers from the fields of acoustics, mobility, planning and architecture are looking for new solutions to noise problems in an interdisciplinary way. Acoustician Lee, for example, is investigating the propagation of sound outdoors, for example how sound propagates in a street canyon lined with houses, using simulations and model measurements in the acoustics laboratory. This provides better tools for planning, which allow a more accurate forecast of noise propagation in urban areas. In addition, the HFT is working together with committed citizens from the OK Lab Stuttgart, who have developed a noise sensor to measure and monitor the noise in their living environment. Here, the HFT works with methods of "Citizen Science". This means that the citizens collect scientific data.

Lee also introduced a new method called Soundscape. Here sound is not only seen as a problem, but as a resource. For example, if a fountain is placed next to traffic noise, the noise can be masked by sounds that are perceived as pleasant: "Whether a sound is evaluated negatively or positively is sometimes very subjective," said Lee. For some, the soundscape of a football stadium is deafening noise, for others it is mainly an event.

When does noise make you sick?

Jördis Wothge, environmental psychologist at the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) pointed to recent studies by the World Health Organization (WHO). Noise increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, sleep disorders and mental illness. The risk of developing coronary heart disease increases by more than 5% at 59 dB (A) average mean road traffic level, while the risk of developing depression increases by 25 to 30% at more than 45 dB (A) continuous exposure to sound, according to the Heinz-Nixdorf study.

To avoid harmful traffic noise, WHO recommends that people should not be exposed to more than 53 dB(A) during the day and 45 dB(A) at night. However, according to noise mapping, almost 5 million people in Germany are exposed to traffic noise of more than 55 dB (A); during the day, 3 million people are exposed to more than 65 dB (A). Surveys conducted by the Federal Environment Agency also show that 75 percent of those surveyed feel disturbed or annoyed by road traffic in their residential environment.

Noise protection in law: a tangle of regulations

The legal situation was explained by Dr. Christian Beckert, from the Ministry for Environment, Agriculture and Energy of the State of Saxony-Anhalt. "The noise protection law is incomplete, but it is also segmented." He cited a plethora of legal provisions, for example in railway law, the Federal Immission Control Act, the Traffic Noise Protection Ordinance or TA Lärm (Technical Instructions on Noise Protection). Since housing and commerce are now more closely linked than in the past, many local authorities discussed changes in the law that would make it easier to build housing in urban areas. However, Beckert emphasised that experience and positive examples should first be gathered in the area of commercial and residential property, which should first go through the whole cascade of existing legal regulations. One example of this is the Neckarpark in Stuttgart.

How can we design cities acoustically in public space?

Trond Maag, urbanist in Zurich, presented successful examples of acoustic urban design in the middle of urban areas in Norway and Switzerland. His wish was that acoustics should be understood as part of urban planning. The conditions offered by a public space could be worked with. As an example, he presented a project in Oslo, where a stream was uncovered again over two kilometres and led through a new residential quarter. Although the quarter was planned close to traffic, commerce and industry, the water in front of the front door ensured that the surroundings were perceived as pleasant, Maag said. He wanted urban planning to take into account the acoustic space and spatial feeling on site and to work with these conditions. The arrangement of building structures could also create differences that attenuate traffic noise.

In the discussion that followed, opinions were divided: While the one side rather saw the limitations of the existing law and therefore hardly any room for manoeuvre, the other side was of the opinion that good, interdisciplinary cooperation could find innovative solutions. The IBA was an excellent field of experimentation for this.

The organiser of the "HFT meets IBA" series is the M4_LAB of the HFT in cooperation with WRS and IBA'27. The M4_LAB of the HFT is a transfer project funded by the federal and state initiative "Innovative Hochschule".

Contact person

Steffen Wurzbacher
Steffen Wurzbacher +49 711 8926 2957
Publish date: 10. March 2020 By Susanne Rytina ()