Analyzing environmental noise in Spacemaker
By Jan-Tore Horn, Data Scientist and Numerical Analysis Specialist
The presence of noise, or lack thereof, is one of the most important factors contributing to the well-being of urban inhabitants. In recent years, a significant number of studies have shown the severe adverse effects of noise pollution on human health; rapid urbanization means this threat will only grow.
We at Spacemaker want to change the status quo of how noise analysis is done. Over the last year, we have prioritized introducing noise analysis into the Spacemaker platform. This feature allows developers and architects to understand projected noise levels on their site while working on and updating their designs. In this article, we will explore the benefits of the tool, and show those of you that have never used a noise analysis tool before, how easy it can be.
Why noise matters
The level of scrutiny on noise pollution has never been higher among both the general public and policy-makers. Many countries have introduced country-specific guidelines and local governments, in particular, appear to be taking the issue seriously.
For instance, the National Institute of Health in the US published a study in 2015 that connects noise pollution to public health issues including hypertension and coronary heart disease, costing the US an estimated $3.9 billion per year . In addition, long-term noise exposure can lead to sleep disturbance and auditory health issues, impacting the health and well-being of the majority of the current and future urban population.
The EU has published the Environmental Noise Guidelines  addressing the issue of environmental noise in modern European society. This report provides strong evidence for an increased risk of heart-related diseases due to exposure to road noise above 53 dB(A) for an extended period of time.
The Spacemaker site intelligence platform empowers architects, real estate developers and municipalities to create living spaces of high and lasting quality that contribute to positive living conditions for people. This is why the noise analysis feature within Spacemaker has quickly become one of our most popular and most used features. It allows planning teams to reduce the impact of noise right from the outset.
Introducing: Noise analysis with Spacemaker
The traditional process of noise simulation and calculation can be time-consuming. During setup, the user is responsible for sourcing and implementing data, and for creating the geometry for each design. Combined, the setup, the need for communication between multiple parties, and the analysis of each design can quickly mean that the analysis of noise analysis could take several days or even weeks. And that does not yet include the correlation with other factors that need to be analysed at the same time in order to determine the living qualities of a site.
Spacemaker has re-imagined the way noise analysis can be done. With fast, continuously updated noise simulations, architects and urban planners are empowered to make decisions based on insights, and design in an iterative manner, while designing a site.
Specifically, the Spacemaker noise analysis:
- Predicts long-term sound levels accurately and consistently, and
- Considers the impact of these sound levels with respect to their desirability and compliance with local standards
How to use the noise analysis in Spacemaker
Most environmental noise software is highly complex, but in Spacemaker it is a matter of just a few clicks. Provided the site plan is saved on the Spacemaker platform, it’s simple to move to the noise analysis, allowing the user to assess the impact of traffic noise on each proposal.
Additionally, detailed statistics are provided which give insight into the noise distribution, with the possibility for filtering on ground regions or facade impact. At this point and with the help of a 3D model, users can clearly understand whether the building is compliant to local requirements or not.
Integrating noise analysis into the workflow right from the outset means users can continuously assess changes as the site develops. In addition, Spacemaker provides suggestions for alternative layouts. The comprehensiveness of this feature not only helps reduce the risk of running into compliance issues but also ensures that planning teams create buildings with living qualities that tenants will enjoy.
Noise for everyone
We’ve worked extensively to make noise analysis as accessible as possible, regardless of previous experience and training. We recently gave our noise analysis a makeover, refreshing the design to enable an even simpler workflow and a better understanding of the noise qualities on a site.
Now, users can receive noise statistics for each detail level. In addition, they will be able to more easily interpret and interact with all the environmental noise data that is relevant for a site concept.
At Spacemaker, we understand that acoustics is a complicated subject which takes years of training and experience to become an expert in. While you do not need to be an expert to use our tool and ensure better noise conditions on your site, bespoke traffic analyses, parameter tuning or consultations on very complex projects may require more in-depth expertise, such as provided by our partner Sweco.
Providing accurate analysis
The noise analysis feature is often critical for regulatory purposes, which means we need to ensure that any insights are indisputable. Research, development, and testing are at the heart of our product development, and in addition, we are collaborating closely with specialist engineering firm Sweco, to ensure that our site collaboration platform gives insights that can be trusted.
Part of our success is due to the fact that we are only focused on acoustics within urban areas. The acoustic world is much larger, with other factors that apply in more rural environments. Spacemaker is not a one-size-fits-all acoustic tool; instead, Spacemaker specializes in the urban environment and is, therefore, able to deliver more accessible insights within this field.
A-weighting — an intro
Spacemaker uses dB(A), also known as A-weighted sound level. The human ear filters air pressure variation into what we hear as sound. One of the most commonly used approaches to account for this effect is A-weighting , meaning that the analysis takes into account the most perceivable frequencies for the human ear. For instance, frequencies around 2000 Hz are the most intense (e.g. a baby crying), while lower frequencies are less straining to our ears.
Energy equivalent noise levels
We mentioned above how Spacemaker computes noise levels for the day, evening, and night. These distinctions are important because noise levels are more than just discrete instances; they are highly contextual and change with time. Residents are more aware of outside noise during the night time, when they are trying to sleep than during the day, when they are not even home.
In order to capture the overall effect of these differences, it is common to use a day-evening-night equivalent noise level. This metric penalizes the sound levels with 5dB during the evening and 10dB during the night , reflecting that sleep disturbance is more important than disturbances during daytime. The Spacemaker noise feature adheres to this standard.
We have an official collaboration with SINTEF Acoustics, an independent Norwegian research institute and one of Europe’s largest independent research organisations. We use their guidance and insights to develop the future of noise prediction tools.
A key finding of one of their reports  was that there was a large discrepancy in results related not only to methods of calculation but also to which consultant performed the analysis. This inconsistency can cause issues down the line for developers, who may be unable to rely on the reports they commissioned, due to a lack of a standard methodology. We believe that a consistent way of calculating the noise level to a sufficient accuracy is more valuable than extremely detailed and time-consuming simulations that can vary wildly.
The noise calculations in the Spacemaker analysis are in accordance with the Common NOise aSSessment methOdS in EUrope (CNOSSOS-EU) developed by the European Commission. The goal of this initiative is to standardize the way noise mapping is done to achieve consistent and comparable results. Another invaluable push for more calculation consistency across the domain is test-cases. Well defined test-cases can help towards a correct implementation of the governing standard. We have ensured that the Spacemaker noise analysis is on par with the ISO-17534 standard, which defines several cases for benchmarking purposes.
Noise data, which pertains mainly to road and rail transport, comes from a variety of sources that depend on the region. In Norway, for example, the public road administration has digitized databases of road traffic available, which we utilize.
Spacemaker twins both the site and its surroundings. Therefore, data regarding geometries and typologies are accounted for in a consistent and accurate manner as the project evolves.
Building better cities
By automating noise analyses our objective is to create a trustworthy, consistent, method of delivering noise pollution insights while minimising the need for human input.
Better cities can only be built if we properly understand the environments we are creating. Traditionally, noise simulation has been difficult to access, but through Spacemaker’s tools and data, we are giving architects and developers the ability to visualise noise pollution in an accessible manner.
As a result, architects and developers will have a better understanding of their site, and create buildings that have a positive impact for their residents and the urban environment as a whole.
Jan-Tore Horn is a data scientist and numerical analysis specialist at Spacemaker. JT holds a PhD in probabilistic design of offshore wind turbines from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).