The scary sounds of silence

photography of small blue and brown bird

Three “sound” principles guide our design choices with customers.  1. Natural sounds like water and birds have been proven to relieve stress. 2. A silent space means danger and should be avoided.  3. Studies have proven that urban noise has a negative effect on health.

“Nature sounds have been used therapeutically to relieve stress, and perceived restoration and attention recovery have shown positive reactions to birdsong.” (A Review of the Benefits of Nature Experiences: More Than Meets the Eye, Franco, Shanahan, Fuller, 2017, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.). According to this research, forest sounds have been found “to improve stress recovery more than the same forest without sound, implying that the sympathetic nervous system shows increased recovery with nature sounds.”

While this is desired, it is also important to avoid what is not positive for health and healing. Spaces without sound, or completely quiet, are not considered “zen” or anything like it, and spaces with urban noise are equally disturbing.  “Together this suggests that to animals (including humans), a silent landscape would generally prove disturbing or unnerving. In the urban environment, we are often faced either with situations that have an overabundance of anthrophony (human-generated noise), or an absence of any noise at all (e.g., a deserted alleyway late at night). Both situations are devoid of the reassuring animal noises that can be identified with a safe (i.e., predator-free) and abundant (i.e., prey-full) environment,” the study concluded. “Therefore, in addition to nature sounds providing the positive benefits described above, a lack of nature sounds could contribute to negative outcomes such as apprehension and anxiety.”

Our designs chose to focus on bringing in positive sounds through birds and water, while using those and the plants to dampen out any possible urban noise emanating from outside the space.  We do this consistently in two ways. 1. We choose plantings that support birds and their need for food and shelter to encourage their presence, and we often look towards water features to carry the sound to all corners of the space.

All sound choices!

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