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The Soundscapes of Preschools
October 11, 2002

"There's no advice like father's-even if you don't take it."
—American proverb


The Reggio Children publication, Children, Spaces, Relations, introduces the concept of soundscapes into the preschool setting:

"The infant-toddler center and preschool have a soundscape with precise and problematic characteristics. The term soundscape denotes an environmental dimension which -- like the chromoscape or lightscape -- has its own identity, which can be designed. The soundscape, particularly in schools, is a layer of functional use in the space, rich and articulated, which involves more than just hearing, given that sound perception is a complex and multidimensional physical experience. Sound waves, in fact, strike the entire body, involving the entire perceptual sphere, varying consciously over time and contributing to our understanding of the spatial dimension in which we are situated. The technical parameters used for determining the quantity of sound cannot describe the acoustic identity of a place: sound is a subjective sensation, and thus we often use subjective terms of qualifying adjectives for describing the soundscape.

"School design culture has not developed sufficient awareness of the importance of the quality of the soundscape, though two elements in particular should be considered in terms of scholastic environment: 

-- the acoustic level (in decibels) which tends to be excessive. In a community such as that of an infant-toddler center or preschool, there are many sounds contemporaneously, with children and adults busy doing, constructing, talking. The sonority is perceived as noisiness, which ends up being one of the most immediate perceptions experienced by a visitor from outside.

-- the inadequacy of the acoustic situation to develop a culture of the soundscape. The high level of background noise and habituation to acoustic pollution can lead to a risk of 'deafness'; that is, the inability to hear and appreciate the range of sound, murmurs, and silences, to hear the 'voice' of the things around us.

"The acoustic design for a school environment should thus pursue two main goals: to lower the general acoustic level, limit the background noise, and eliminate disturbing noises (technical systems, vibrations, passage of liquids, traffic, etc.), and at the same time develop the sound potentials and design the acoustic possibilities."

"The focus is too often placed on soundproofing interventions without actually designing the soundscape. The relationship between sound and environment is two-way: the sound influences the sensory and spatial perceptions of the environment, while the environment itself determines the form and quality of the sound by way of the geometric characteristics and reflective features of the materials. The sound atmosphere of a place should be designed, not eliminated."

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