A prototype biophilic sound design installation has been installed in Melbourne to gauge how connectivity to the environment influences mood.
The mini nature reserve takes the form of a 6.5-metre circular seating area surrounded by plants and sounds from four Victorian national parks.
The Sonic Gathering Space was designed by Jordan Lacey, a research fellow from RMIT’s School of Design, and was created in collaboration with landscape architect, Associate Professor Charles Anderson, also from RMIT.
For their powers of regeneration, relaxation, productivity and well-being, the principles of biophilia are being applied in construction and design to increase citizens’ connectivity to the natural environment even in urban settings.
“Typically,” says Lacey, “biophilic design has been used to create ambiences in cities that are densely populated, to create spaces of restoration for busy, stressed-out citizens who don’t have access to nature and parks.”
The Sonic Gathering space includes a QR code for people to scan and answer questions designed by Emeritus Professor Lex Brown, an environmental planning and urban research academic at Griffith University. The questions are designed to understand people’s moods before and after using the space.
“When we think about ambience we usually think about a café or restaurant,” says Lacey, “but I am interested in exploring the kinds of interventions that can be introduced into cities, that can generate a certain vibe and that also have the potential to impact people’s moods and feelings in an everyday context.”
The pandemic has hit the Melbourne CBD hard. Property vacancy rates and reduced foot traffic throughout lockdowns have had a major impact on the city’s economy, the results of which are yet to be fully realised. It’s clear that greater Melburnians and their relationship to the CBD are in for a shift, and Lacey hopes projects like his will show what’s possible.
“If biophilic design has been partly about exploring how we can create small sites of ambience for restoration in dense cities… well, what are the interventions we can think about to reinvigorate and create a bit more of a buzz and vibe in a quiet city?”
He uses the city’s laneway culture as an example. In the 1980s, when networks of unused laneways began transforming into art, hospitality and retail spaces. “Previously, Melbourne has famously used design interventions to create a certain ambience, particularly with its laneways. We’ve been a world leader in that. So there’s no question we can reimagine and reinvigorate the city for its changing needs.
“Part of that may be introducing things like sounds and small park benches, and plants and other textures into those laneways to offset the infrastructure and traffic noise, so people can also use them as potential sites of respite, because they’re very special.”
The Sonic Gathering Space is located at 377 Russell Street and will remain there until the middle of the year when analysis of the responses will begin.