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Architect Chris Downey goes blind, says he’s actually gotten better at his job - 60 Minutes - CBS News
"A social worker tried to tell him about "career alternatives" after he lost his sight, but Chris Downey wasn't about to stop being an architect"



"At age 45, Chris Downey had pretty much constructed the life he'd always wanted. An architect with a good job at a small housing firm outside San Francisco, he was happily married, with a 10-year-old son. He was an assistant little league coach and avid cyclist. And then, doctors discovered a tumor in his brain. He had surgery, and the tumor was safely gone, but Downey was left completely blind.

What he has done in the 10 years since losing his sight, as a person, and as an architect, can only be described as a different kind of vision."
architecture  blind  blindness  design  2018  accessibility  chrisdowney  sound  acoustics  via:johnrickford 
january 2019 by robertogreco
Mapping Boston’s soundscape – News – Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
"Erica Walker, SD ’17, biked around Boston to take the measure of a city’s noise and its effects on residents.

Hot coffee dripping. Steamed milk hissing. Muzak droning. Keyboards clacking. Patrons murmuring: Erica Walker’s soft voice was almost drowned out by the ambient noise in a Starbucks. It was an ironic touch, considering that Walker has spent the past five years intently tuned in to Boston’s cacophonous urban soundscape.

The 36-year-old researcher, who will receive her doctorate in environmental health next year from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has pedaled nearly every inch of the city on a purple commuter bike—hauling a bulky sound monitor, a boom microphone, and a camera in her backpack—all in the service of plotting sound levels in 400 separate locations and collecting residents’ subjective responses to the aural onslaught.

Most people have approached her with curiosity and, on learning her mission, gratitude. A few, alarmed by the paraphernalia of her sonic surveillance, have reported her to the police.

It’s all in a day’s research for Walker, a former artist who was compelled to undertake the study after suffering her own noise nightmare. The children living in the apartment above hers “ran across the floor literally 24 hours a day, and it drove me crazy,” says the Mississippi native. Plagued with headaches and sleeplessness, she sent out an impromptu Craigslist survey asking about annoying footstep sounds and was flooded with responses. She began to suspect her auditory torment was not isolated.

SIGNATURE SOUNDS

Walker has discovered that each Boston neighborhood carries a unique acoustic signature. The dominant note of Dorchester, for example, is transportation. “You have planes, you have trains, you have automobiles,” Walker says. But Dorchester’s rich cultural diversity also lends evocative countermelodies

to the main theme. “Something I hadn’t planned on is people standing outside and yelling across the street to each other, or sitting on their porches talking really loud—that human element,” Walker laughs. She wonders: “If people are part of that cultural landscape, is it ‘noise’ or just ‘sound’?”

By contrast, East Boston, which abuts Logan International Airport, is perpetually assaulted by the din of low-flying jets. In a community survey that Walker created, one resident called the commotion “a regular horror.” Another lamented, “Everybody is walking around looking wrung out, some are getting nasty, kids are crying more, kids with behavioral issues are out of control. People don’t know what to do.”

THE MISMEASURE OF NOISE

Most formal surveys of sound gauge what are known as “A- weighted decibel levels,” or dB(A)—sounds that are perceptible by the human ear. Boston’s noise ordinance defines “unreasonable or excessive noise” as that in excess of 50 dB(A) between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., or in excess of 70 dB(A) at other hours. To put this in context, normal human speech at about 3 feet apart takes place at between 55 and 65 dB(A).

Walker found that the city’s ordinance thresholds are rou- tinely flouted. Boston’s two loudest enclaves—East Boston, with the roar of jet engines, and Savin Hill, awash in jangling nightclub noise from across Marina Bay—average 80 dB(A). Passing ambulances clock in at 105 decibels. Construction site jackhammers reach 112. Even those neighborly conversations between porches can hit 85 decibels.

And these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Walker
is also measuring a type of low-frequency noise called “infrasound.” Although vibrations at this level are not picked up by the ear, our bodies still register them. “Infrasound is totally inaudible; we don’t hear it, we just feel it, such as when a bus passes by or a plane takes off,” Walker says.

In nature, low-frequency vibrations take the form of thunder, earthquakes, volcanoes, or nearby herds of wild animals. Such vibrations signal approaching danger—a clue to the toll they may take on mental and physical health in modern urban environments. “Maybe our body is processing these vibrations and we don’t know it,” Walker suggests. Making matters worse, infrasound is not only highly prevalent in cities but also persistent, hard to mitigate, and it travels long distances.

What Walker wants to know is: Are these low-frequency noises, which are rife in urban environments but not included in standard A-weighted decibel measurements, exacting a hidden public health toll?

NOISE AND HEALTH

To find out, Walker, along with her adviser, Francine Laden, MS ’93, SD ’98, professor of environmental epidemiology, will map audible and infrasound noise levels across Boston’s neighborhoods, using color gradients to denote areas of higher or lower average sound intensity. Walker will also catalog residents’ perceptions of noise levels, using the Greater Boston Neighborhood Noise Survey, an instrument she developed that is being translated into Spanish, Simple Chinese, Vietnamese, and Haitian Creole. The survey, Walkers says, “will put a human face on community noise.” Eventually, Walker will correlate soundscape metrics with data from established health studies conducted in Boston to learn if any type of noise is linked to cardiovascular and mental health outcomes.

Walker’s research takes place in the midst of a heated discussion about airplane noise—much of it low-frequency—in Greater Boston. In December 2015, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, who lives in South Boston, hosted a forum with Federal Aviation Administration officials, during which residents from across the region furiously recounted tales of babies constantly woken, rising asthma rates in families living beneath flight paths, and spouses sleeping in basements to escape the racket of Logan’s traffic. According to Lynch’s office, aircraft noise complaints in Greater Boston have worsened since the installation of a new GPS-based navigation system that directs planes on the most efficient route.

Francesca Dominici, professor of biostatistics at Harvard Chan, co-authored a 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal, which found that elderly individuals living on the noisiest flight paths near airports have a 3.5 percent increase in cardiovascular hospitalization for every 10-decibel increase in airport-related noise. She also found a strong association between noise exposure and cardiovascular hospitalizations in ZIP codes with noise exposures greater than 55 decibels.

For her part, Walker will be posting Boston sound maps and updates on her project’s progress at www.noiseandthecity.org. She has been biking Boston’s clamorous streets long enough to know that the most anguished complaints are about airplanes, construction, booming bass tones from car stereos, and barking dogs.

She can sympathize. “People don’t have a place to voice their noise issues,” Walker says. “They’re just kind of stuck here, suffering. And the city has no idea what’s bothering them.”"
noice  sound  boston  audio  soundscapes  2016  ericawalker  health  airports  maps  mapping  recordings  acoustics 
april 2016 by robertogreco
Dear Architects: Sound Matters - The New York Times
"A room sounds very different when a window is open. Sound defines, animates and enlarges the architecture."
sound  architecture  acoustics  noise  environment  cities  2015  design  audio 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Designing around sound? — Medium
"Hi Boris—a great experiment. I’m looking at non-text inputs for students and the noise factor comes to mind every time.

So in the future will we pick our coffee shop/office based on acoustics as much as the espresso? Will shopkeeps design around sound—I don’t think anyone pays much attention to that right now. I noticed Propaganda Coffee is a very bright room and the noise volume quickly becomes distracting.

And just in case you can’t get out to a coffee shop: https://coffitivity.com/ "
sound  learning  soundscapes  education  schools  schooldesign  acoustics  coffeshops  bradovenell-carter  2015 
march 2015 by robertogreco
The sound of one ant walking – inside the world of a wildlife audio expert | Radio Times
"Chris Watson, who has worked on Attenborough's Frozen Planet and Life in the Undergrowth, shares a remarkable insight into sound recording, some exclusive clips - and his feelings about music in wildlife shows"



"The only way that Watson was able to capture sound in such detail was thanks to the help of Peng Lee, a man with perhaps the greatest job title in the world – Principal Investigator of Insect Acoustics at the University of Mississippi.

Lee was researching how to record within ants' nests and had made a highly specialised piece of equipment to do so. When Watson told him he was making a programme about ants at the same time, Lee sent over two of his strange, home-made devices.

“They're literally like black box devices with a knitting needle on a wire. But they were actually classified at the time and we had to battle to get clearance to have them exported from US customs.”

Deploying new technology to interesting effect is something Watson has been doing all his recording life. The first step he took on his journey into sound happened back in the 60s, during his early teens, after his parents had bought him a reel-to-reel tape recorder. It involved a kind of aural epiphany, and is something he describes in detail in the Radio 4 documentary The Listeners (available on BBC iPlayer here).

One day he was standing in the family kitchen watching starlings feeding at the bird table in the garden, when he realised he was merely watching; he could hear nothing of the birds' activity.

“I was watching through a large picture window that gave it a large CinemaScope frame. But it was like watching a silent film.”

Realising he could use his new present to rectify this, he attached the tape recorder and microphone to the bird table, pressed record and waited. The results were a revelation.

“I was just amazed at what I heard. This was the sound of another world. A world where we cannot be because our presence would affect it. All this beautiful, exquisite, fascinating detail came out.”"



"Though there may be certain places on Earth you just can't hear, such as volcanos, Watson is one person who has gone further than any in uncovering hidden worlds of sound.

One of his favourite pieces is from another David Attenborough documentary, Frozen Planet. It's the sound of Weddell seals singing under the sea ice.

“It is another world, but it does sound as if it's from outer space, this wailing voice. But because it's recorded under the sea ice, there's no wave action, so it doesn't sound underwater but there are these haunting voices that are absolutely amazing.”'
ants  audio  sound  nature  recording  via:shannon_mattern  2013  chriswatson  davidcrawford  wildlife  insects  soundtracks  soundscapes  penglee  acoustics 
april 2014 by robertogreco
My City: Life as a blind architect in San Francisco | TED Blog
"Downey became intrigued with architecture when he was 6 years old, when his parents worked with an architect to design a brand-new house in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. He realized that buildings and structures could be creative and fun. “I got to explore the house being constructed, which was great. It was like a playground — you could walk onto the roof from the tall side of the house, and it was built around big trees, creating a courtyard. It was a modern space that tied into the landscape.”

Now, as one of the few blind architects in the world, Downey has taken a keen interest in multisensory design, which is important for visually impaired people who rely on touch, sound or smell to navigate. “Think about architectural environments that are [visually] monotonous, like hospitals or big convention centers,” he says. “Try that blind, when it all feels the same and sounds the same.”

When he first returned to work in Oakland, for example, he found that he couldn’t get to the bathroom on his own. “I returned to the office before I started orientation and mobility training,” he recalls. “The bathrooms were out of the office and down a few hallways. I typically had the office manager guide me there.”

These days, he says, he designs with a tactile palette, not just a color palette, in mind. “Blind people rely on acoustics to get around. I test materials with my cane to see how they feel. Instead of doing a ‘walk-through,’ we create a ‘tap-through,’ so you hear what it’s like when you tap your cane throughout the building.” He uses an embossing printer to print out drawings of the spaces he works on. (Recent projects include eye centers in California and at Duke University, and innovative transportation hubs in the Bay Area.)

“The San Francisco Bay Area really does have a vibrant and empowering blind community,” he says. “I’ve always been quite intentional about networking. I wanted to meet the most effective, aggressive and accomplished blind people that I could. It seemed important to have great mentors while also keeping the bar high relative to expectations and goals. The blind crowd had it down, with all sorts of pragmatic and philosophical advice. Besides, it seemed like I kept meeting all sorts of really cool and interesting people — I was miffed that I had to lose my sight to meet them!” Today, Downey is himself a key member of the city’s blind network, and also serves on the board of directors for LightHouse, an organization promoting independence and self-reliance for those who are blind or visually impaired.

“The blind crowd tends to be pretty resilient and great problem-solvers,” he continues. For Downey, that resilience includes a newfound appreciation for life’s everyday sounds.

“I love sitting on our front porch,” he muses. “It’s something I didn’t think that much of before I lost my sight. I’ll be sitting there, early in the morning, just listening to the birds coming out and the breezes blowing through. It’s an incredible sensory experience. I’m hearing leaves falling off the branches and bouncing off other branches and hitting the sidewalk. It’s not that I hear any better, it’s just that I never would have noticed that before. It’s incredibly beautiful to think about.” 

["See a gallery of photographs of Downey’s favorite places in San Francisco" http://blog.ted.com/2013/12/04/san-francisco-in-pictures-chris-downey-on-the-experience-of-a-city/ ]

[via: http://studiox-nyc.tumblr.com/post/69085416482/in-2008-architect-chris-downey-had-successful ]

[See also: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/episode-10-99-sound-and-feel/
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/10/design-within-reach/308220/
https://web.archive.org/web/20151230021453/http://archpaper.com:80/news/articles.asp?id=4814 ]
chrisdowney  sanfrancisco  2013  architects  architecture  blind  blindness  acoustics  design 
december 2013 by robertogreco
Global Sustainable Soundscapes Network | Exploring and promoting the sustainability of soundscapes around the world.
The overarching objective of our network is to bring together ecologists (landscape ecologists and conservation biologists), acoustic ecologists (from the creative arts) and acousticians and psychoacousticians (scientists that study sound and how people perceive sound) to coordinate studies in diverse soundscapes around the world. The network will help to foster:

• Open communication between different disciplines about the composition of soundscapes and the underlying mechanisms that control dynamics and the ways that humans experience sounds in the environment through the support of workshops (listening, conservation), sharing of tools, social networking and coordinated Theme Teams

• Coordination of 4-5 soundscape monitoring sites where acoustic data are being collected long-term

• Development of a common vocabulary, long-term monitoring standards, and metadata standards for acoustic data for use by ecologists

• Increase awareness of this new field among ecologists and social scientists through a variety of activities

• Increase public awareness of the importance of their acoustic connection to nature."

[via: http://studiox-nyc.tumblr.com/post/44630860758/sound-city ]
soundscapes  acoustics  ecology  sound  biology  sustainability 
march 2013 by robertogreco
TenderNoise Project | Movity.com
"TenderNoise (TN) is an applied acoustic ecology project that invites a large audience ranging from urban planners to government officials, from local residents to global design technologists to consider sound as a key proxy for urban activity, with all of its positive and negative ramifications.

TN collects, maps and layers noise data across Tenderloin, San Francisco, exploring the aural quality of streets via frequently-logged historical decibel (dBA) levels over a few days period.

TN has been developed as part of the CityCentered Festival organized by GAFFTA in June 2010. The project is the outcome of many individuals who are employed at various organizations and who have collaborated on a pro-bono basis. Three key organizations involved are Stamen Design, Movity.com and Arup:"
maps  information  visualization  data  noise  sound  mapping  stamen  stamendesign  tendernoise  acoustics  urban  urbanism  sanfrancisco  tenderloin 
july 2011 by robertogreco

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