Tecnalia. Inspiring Business

Tecnalia. Inspiring Business

Acoustic comfort as key variable for the design of urban spaces


The City Council of Bilbao and TECNALIA have joined forces to increase the life quality of citizens by the development of acoustically comfortable spaces

General LaTorre Square

Last February 2015 the final conference of the QUADMAP project (LIFE 10/ENV/IT/407) took place in Rotterdam. The main objective of this initiative is to define a standard methodology for the identification, assessment and management of quiet areas in the framework of European Directive 2002/49/EC related to Environmental Noise. As a final result, a methodological guide has been published which objective is to give support to local technicians and architects in the management of urban quiet areas. If you are interested in receiving this Guide, please contact us. It is available in English and Spanish.

From acoustical map to acoustical comfort

For more than a decade the City Council is working in the sound dimension of Bilbao city. It is one of the few Spanish municipalities which officers make their acoustic diagnostics making by themselves the 3D acoustic modeling of the city.

QUADMAP has been an opportunity for the Bilbao City and TECNALIA to focus on the improvement of acoustic comfort, going beyond of solving noise problems. The purpose of QUADMAP is to adapt the sound environment of urban spaces in Bilbao to the requirements associated to the uses and functions located on them and thus to satisfy the citizens expectations.

Sound Islands

So, Bilbao has deployed its strategy Sound Islands. Under the QUADMAP project, it has developed the first Sound Island in a square of Bilbao, by integrating acoustic comfort criteria in the process of its renovation. The main objective of this action was to create a space whose soundscape invites to the relaxation.

A Sound Island is an urban place of Bilbao that meets certain requirements, such as overcoming a level of acoustic comfort (measured by the ESEI indicator developed by TECNALIA) and citizens must perceive it as pleasant place. These conditions of sound atmosphere invite to citizens for calm and relax.

General Latorre Square of Bilbao

The municipality of Bilbao considers QUADMAP as an opportunity to increase comfort in a public space by contributing to the project of its renewal. The General Latorre Square of Bilbao was selected as a pilot case in the QUADMAP project. Due to the presence of noise pollution in the area, various actions were devoted to convert this place into a sound island. Previous to intervention, the environmental comfort of the General Latorre square was analysed with the methodology defined in the QUADMAP project, and besides this the ESEI indicator was applied to assess its acoustic comfort.

In this study, field campaigns to collect acoustic measures and perception of place users have been combined with desk studies and modelling of the place. This assessment allows quantifying the acoustic comfort indicator and identifying the sound challenges to increase acoustic comfort. These challenges were related to modify the sound atmosphere which was dominated by street traffic noise, and to increase the presence of positive sounds. Acoustic events associated with natural elements and with the presence of children in the place are usually positively valuated.

The ESEI indicator helps in the design

The knowledge acquired from this place helps us to define possible actions for its improvement. These actions are discussed into the collaborative team of acoustic comfort experts and urban design experts. The ESEI indicator allows quantify the benefit in the soundscape obtained by each proposed action. Thus, collaborative and consensus work is carried out from the earliest stages of design. In the design of the square, the presence of natural elements was increased, barriers to the sound propagation were integrated, and a water fountain was included. The fountain has a double acoustic function: shielding traffic noise and improvement of sound atmosphere.

The water fountain has water jets that generate positive sound events and the constant sound of water falling on a bed of stones shifts the attention focus from traffic noise to water fountain.

Increased satisfaction and comfort

The renovation works of the square were executed at the end of 2012. Six months later, the place was re-assessed. The renewal of the square has led an increase in user satisfaction. The average time that users are in this place has doubled. And the 97% of respondents consider the square as pleasant (increasing by 69 points from the pre-renovation phase).

The new design has helped improve the comfort index by 1.5 points (on a scale of twelve) and reduce noise levels in 3 dBA (at the height of a person sitting on a bench).

The design improves clearly other comfort parameters. For example, the square is considered more calm, safer and cleaner (increase of around 41% users perceiving so), more accessible and visually pleasing (increase of 50%).

According to the results, it is considered that the deployment of the QUADMAP project in General Latorre square has been a successful experience. The collaborative work between experts on acoustic comfort and experts on urban design from the earliest stages of the design process helps to improve the soundscape of urban spaces, and hence the overall pleasantness of these places.


For more information, please Contact

Itziar Aspuru (TECNALIA)
Urban Comfort

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