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The Journal of Sonic Studies
Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 6, nr. 1 (January 2014)Marie Højlund; Sofie Kinch: ALARMING ATMOSPHERES - EMBODIED SOUND HABITUATION AS DESIGN STRATEGY IN A NEURO-INTENSIVE CARE UNIT

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2. Related work

In the current discourse surrounding the planning and building of new Danish hospitals, there has been growing attention as to how the hospital environment and its sensory impressions can have an unintended negative effect not only on patients, but also on staff and visitors (Folmer, Mullins and Frandsen 2012). Several publications appeared concurrently, proposing recommendations as to how hospitals might accommodate more healing and pleasant environments through evidence-based research and design (Frandsen et al. 2009). This approach can be seen as part of a larger international paradigm shift in the design of the modern hospital: from functionalism towards a growing interest in improving the physical environment in such a way that it supports user needs, preferences, and sensibility.

Along these lines, current research in the acoustic arena also addresses various aspects of how to improve the existing hospital environment, e.g. altering room acoustics by decreasing reverberation time (Berg 2001). Researchers addressing human-related factors in alarm design offer an important contribution, with the aim of developing new standards for alarm sounds that are patient- rather than equipment-centred (Edworthy 2000). Building on studies that demonstrate how a typical medical environment is dominated by too many alarms that are "too loud, too insistent, and tend to disrupt thought and communication at the very time that it is vital" (Edworthy 1994: 15), a more ergonomic way of constructing auditory warnings is proposed (Kerr 1985; Stanton 1994; Meredith and Edworthy 1995; Edworthy and Hellier 2005).

In addition to the improvement of the existing physical environment, healing architecture and design introduces a holistic perspective aimed at improving the overall atmosphere, by implementing, for example, art and designed light (Daykin, Byrne, Soteriou and O'Connor 2008).[1] Within the field of lighting design, new studies investigate, with attention for the user’s socio-cultural background as well as knowledge of what homey light might mean to various users, how an atmospheric approach to the quality of light in the hospital ward can be applied to create a model for a pleasurable and variable indoor light atmosphere (Stidsen 2012). However, it is difficult to find similar durable and comprehensive sound design alternatives, which address the shared atmosphere. Strategies such as music therapy and music intervention do not generally address the shared social atmosphere, but focus rather on creating a momentary island of rest for a single patient, precluding interaction with others. Research lacks descriptions of the long-lasting effects of healing music, and it is suggested that the impact of such interventions is limited to short periods of time (Nilsson 2009).

Considering the very nature of atmospheres and the way humans experience the world in a multisensory way, there seems to be an apparent lack of solutions created in an interdisciplinary collaboration. Therefore, we stress that the time is ripe to approach the design of ward interior from a multisensory point of departure.