Simple Landscaping Tricks Can Make Airports Quieter

Marleen Bos // Courtesy Schiphol Group
Marleen Bos // Courtesy Schiphol Group / Marleen Bos // Courtesy Schiphol Group

Airports are, understandably, noisy places. At 80 feet away, a jet taking off is loud enough to rupture ear drums. The noise from plane traffic at busy airports is a regular complaint among residents who live along flight paths, and can affect people’s health and home values. New generations of planes are getting quieter, but airports still have to find ways of dampening their roars and appeasing neighbors. For Schipol international airport just outside of Amsterdam—one of the busiest in Europe—the solution was a park.

Buitenschot Land Art Park is an 80-acre field that’s specially designed to cut down ambient noise around the airport. Designed by the artist Paul de Kort and H+N+S Landscape Architects, it’s a maze of ridges and troughs inspired by the work of 18th-century German physicist and musician Ernst Chladni. His study of acoustics through the motion of sand on vibrating plates is the foundation of the science of sound. 

Image Credit:Marleen Bos // Courtesy Schiphol Group

Previously, research into the noise around Amsterdam’s airports revealed that noise levels decreased every fall, when the fields around the area had been plowed. The low-frequency noise that comes from planes has long wavelengths, so it can’t be stopped by just one sound barrier. The spread-out furrows of a plowed field, by contrast, were able to absorb some of the sound waves because they exist over long stretches of land. 

A diagram of how the ridges dampen ground noise. Image Credit: Schiphol Group

Sharply carved, 10-foot-high ridges crisscross the park in straight lines, with bike paths and miniature parks set up in the 36-foot valley between them. Because the ridges are spaced about the same as the wavelength of the airport noise, they dampen the sound. The ridges reduce noise by two to three decibels, a seemingly modest decrease, but one that’s a significant step toward the airport’s goal of cutting noise by 10 decibels in the area. 

[h/t: Smithsonian via Gizmodo]