Sound is a crucial element of the ecosystem. It is the language that all living beings speak, hear and feel. Coined by the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, acoustic ecology designates the relationship that exists between sound, living beings and the ecosystem. It is the study of the influence of the soundscape on the physical characters of a landscape and on the behavior of its inhabitants. Schafer perceived soundscapes as collaborative compositions that all users take part in and live within, further highlighting the role of listening as an indicator of the state of a community, of an individual and of a landscape. Therefore, by hearing the squeaks, roars and screams that fill the daily soundscape of cities, one can deduce a sense of distress present among all the layers that constitute today’s urban landscapes. Humans' voices are the loudest, their ears no longer listen, and their "music" is overwhelming to the point that they hide behind walls to avoid the cacophony they create.
Studies have long pointed to the harmful effects of noise pollution on the well-being of all city inhabitants, humans and non-humans, where mechanical sounds are overpowering all others, forcing all species to adapt. This fact has become painfully salient during the Covid19 lockdowns in 2020. The pandemic, through all of its horrific and tragic impacts, made humans more sensitive and attentive to their environment. City dwellers began to appreciate the musicality of silence and to hear nature’s voice. This change of perspective with respect to city life has brought the issue of noise pollution even more to the fore. The effect of soundscapes on people’s wellbeing was emphasized, hence the urgency to address it. Furthermore, it is imperative to address the notion of the soundscape when dealing with the topic of transitioning to ecologically sustainable urban design methods. How can soundscapes play a role in the preservation of non-human life in urban environments?
The concept of ecological infrastructures forms the core of sustainable landscape design. Urban design strategies have evolved to incorporate green and blue infrastructures into their sustainable design approaches. These frameworks are treated according to their spatialization, evoking continuities and centralities. But these notions, drawn and studied based on visual data, are not sufficient to describe the full reality of an ecosystem. A third acoustic dimension is necessary to understand the dynamics that animate a landscape. A sonic approach to urbanism allows designers to forecast the ecological quality that their project will meet and to envision its vitality, thus the necessity of considering soundscape as an ecological infrastructure. How can the notion of white/acoustic infrastructure allow for sound to take part in the landscape design process?
The following article attempts to develop the concept of white infrastructure with the aim of drawing a design strategy out of sonic urbanism views. Paris La défense, the biggest business district in Europe, is used as a case study for this research. La Défense is the result of the rapid urbanization and Modernization that Paris witnessed in the years between the 1950s and the 1970s. It is a typical modern business district, a manifestation of the “Manhattanism” dream that all developed city makers wished to recreate, in which the human being is the central actor and ecology does not participate in the design. This is evident in this neighborhood by its slab-like nature, placed above an intertwined network of traffic infrastructures, the main source of noise pollution in urban areas. Designed with anthropocentric and economic prosperity driven views, road flows are privileged on the first step, human flows on a second step and finally ecological flows make up the leftover space where nature is forced to adapt.
The physical obstacles of the site’s dense urban fabric make it difficult to transform the site into a hub of ecological infrastructures. Soundscapes, immaterial yet manipulable and impactful, can therefore make up an interesting dimension to be explored for the ecological transition of the district.