The Noise Landscape delivers a thorough, timely and comprehensive study of airports and the expansive areas surrounding them, as examples of contentious contemporary urbanized landscapes. Noise Landscapes are defined as “a specific environment shaped by aviation and by its vicinity to the airport” and in more detail as “the urbanized, noise-and infrastructure-polluted productive landscape of varying density, where urban development, industry, agriculture, landscape and airport-related activities alternate”. The term is used as an analytical proxy to systematically document the space affected by aviation-related activities that expands well beyond what is usually planned in the vicinity of airports, thus raising a number of planning and design challenges. ‘Noise’ is used throughout the book (occasionally in relation to air pollution) to problematize the economically oriented and seldom critical discourse on airports in various national and supranational policies in Europe. This is related to the struggle of juggling the interests of a multitude of actors while attempting to promote efficient policies to regulate airports (such as their expansion and effects). Of particular interest are the efforts of local communities and other actors to recognize the issues raised by exposure to noise in terms of equity, access to opportunities, health and other broader political issues.
The book’s authors are architecture, design and urban planning experts with extensive theoretical and applied knowledge on complex urban processes and airports. While the book is rooted in the domain of architecture and urban design, it remains of highly multi-disciplinary interest as it is written in an approachable, albeit sometimes uneven, style and a very appealing visual design, abounding with infographics, maps and photographs that help drive the authors’ arguments.
The book is divided into four sections, inviting the reader to transition from a descriptive to an analytical mindset: the first section (Background) outlines the logic behind using the Noise Landscape term in relation to aviation. The second section (Explorations) describes the ecosystems of eight European airports and their peculiarities based on a number of factors (including their specific regulatory frameworks). The third section (Investigations) further unpacks four of the eight airports to discuss the complexities faced when planning within Noise Landscapes and how various actors react to the presence of aviation noise in their daily life. Finally, the fourth section (Readings) includes three essays embedded in cultural-historical, morphological and design perspectives that can offer conceptual and analytical tools to better understand Noise Landscapes as unique and challenging urban phenomena.
For example, chapter three offers a critical view on noise policies implemented in relation to aircraft noise complaints, with a focus on London’s Heathrow Airport. Building on abundant research available on the negative effects of exposure to constant high levels of noise, the chapter debates the usefulness of existing noise management strategies that had emerged to address pragmatic needs as identified by certain stakeholders. Such traditional strategies include: conducting noise measurements, drawing noise contour maps (that represent areas exposed to equal levels of noise) and allocating funds for soundproofing buildings situated within the noise contour area. The authors contend that they are insufficient and limited in scope, raising the need for new, more equitable policies that can mitigate aviation noise. A compelling argument is made for the consideration and explicit inclusion of “outdoor spaces” (such as parks, streets, squares or school courtyards) in noise mitigation policies and solutions, as exemplified by the case of the area around Heathrow Airport. Most interventions and compensation initiatives are directed towards “protecting” indoor spaces (and subsequently indoor life) from exposure to high levels of sounds, for example through the insulation of building façades using sealed windows or absorbing construction materials. Comparatively, access to and enjoyment of outdoor spaces exposed to high noise levels is an afterthought, and current design solutions (e.g. shielding open areas using insulated huts as in the case of a school in the vicinity of Heathrow) cannot be scaled up and are incompatible with maintaining a good quality of life for those living within Noise Landscapes.
Similarly, in chapter four the authors discuss the design challenges that Noise Landscapes face, including restrictive regulations, vast unbuilt green areas, densely built and inhabited edges and proximity to the city. The focus is on ways in which various airports (with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol standing out) embrace these challenges and use strategies to reframe Noise Landscapes as opportunities for creative and adaptable design solutions. The “experiments” taking place in the Schiphol Noise Landscape are an example, e.g. the creation of the Schiphol golf course or of the Buitenschot Park, a noise reducing ribbed structure that became a recreational area.
The book invites readers to take a critical approach to airports, their role within the urban landscape and their relation to cities. It is framed within current debates in both the noise and broader soundscape literature as well as within larger urbanistic debates. The use of noise and its spatial extent to sketch out the substantially larger territory, referred to as a form of “urbanized landscapes” where the effects of airports can be felt, is compelling. The ephemeral and pervasive nature of noise, as well as its extensive territorial reach, make it difficult to mitigate in a manner satisfying for all involved actors, turning it into a challenge situated at the intersection of economic interests, health concerns and questions of quality of life. The book is a timely, well-written and empirically-based addition to current scholarship on new forms of urbanity, specifically in relation to the complex topics it aims to bring together: the unplanned, non-designed and controversial urban impact of airports, their relationship with cities, and the broader noise concerns that affect the everyday life of people situated in rapidly changing and evolving urban spaces.