The Search for Silence: design vs regulation

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comment submitted 3pm Thurs on “The Search of Silence” by Allison Arieff, The New York Times Opinion, 20 March. 

great piece, and welcome attention to a crucial issue which, as ARUP’s Cushner aptly (and punningly?) notes, is “often overlooked.”

Sound concerns are still often dismissed as intolerance or efforts at cultural/class suppression — which they might sometimes be in part, but not generally. As you observe, sound issues are highly complex and intermingled with other factors, such as lighting and people’s sense of control over their environment. There is huge opportunity for ahead-of-the-curve companies such as ARUP who understand this and develop leading expertise.

Of particular interest to me is the great potential for “sound interfaces” to devices and information systems. This may be a key to addressing the crucial problem of managing our attention for better health, productivity, and engagement.

I found especially interesting the contrast between ARUP’s Sound Labs/prototyping approach, versus the “highly regulated spaces like hospitals or airports [which] feel..like the worst noise offenders.” We might infer a more general lesson there: complex human environments like cityscapes need iterative and adaptive design, evaluated on the total outcome; and conventional regulatory control may prevent this, not work, or even backfire. Many areas such as traffic control, building code, zoning, and parking might benefit from such rethinking, as the “Lean Urbanism” movement, most recently, advocates.


Tim McCormick
Palo Alto, California
@tmccormick