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Sunday, March 09, 2008

AE2: Highway Noise Barrier

One product of the two main components of sprawl -- dispersed living patterns and the high-speed roads that allow access to them -- is all too often relegated to engineers and manufacturers instead of designers, and therefore is all too often an eyesore. I'm talking about highway noise barriers, those walls erected along the sides of highways where development occurs, and where those in the development do not want to hear (or see) the cars speeding by.

Here's an example of a barrier frequently found along North American highways, basically steel piers with precast infill, the latter in this case treated to resemble a stone wall:

[A small portion of the 7 million square feet of noise barriers installed by Durisol | image source]

This wall surely won't be winning any design awards, but it will continue to be installed by developers and jurisdictions that don't want to pay too much for what's becoming more and more required, as highways and dwellings creep ever closer together.

A couple projects previously featured on my weekly page show that the best case for raising the bar on the design of these barriers is to make them part of a building; in other words bring the architecture to the road, don't use the barrier to separate the two.

[Acoustical Barrier + Hessing Cockpit by ONL | image source]

The Acoustical Barrier + Hessing Cockpit by ONL is easily the most high-profile recent project to tackle such a proposition. The one-mile stretch of highway that the wall parallels is treated to a lattice-work of steel structure holding up glass panels in a concave section, reflecting sound back to the highway. The "Cockpit" of the project's name -- a car showroom -- inhabits the center of the barrier's one-mile distance, a suitable use for a structure so wedded to its merchandise's favorite surface.

[Acoustical Barrier + Hessing Cockpit by ONL | image source]

A few years before ONL pulled off that feat in the Netherlands, Jean Nouvel proposed a similar solution in Italy for Brembo, a manufacturer of automobile brakes. The Brembo Research Office, for good reason, also goes by the monicker "the Red Kilometer."

[Brembo Research Office by Jean Nouvel | image source]

Completed last year, the facility's long red wall is an even stronger statement than the Dutch lattice-work, something appropriate to the land of Ferrari. Like the ONL design, Nouvel's barrier has a presence on both sides, in effect making something that is usually an afterthought the most important element of a building...and perhaps even the most important element of a highway.

[Brembo Research Office by Jean Nouvel | image source]


  1. There are also some great, creative examples of these in Australia, esp. Melbourne e.g. the 'sound tube', by Denton Corker Marshall:
    and these by Wood Marsh:

  2. Thanks for the links, Dan. I forgot I featured the former on my weekly page back in '01.

  3. The trick with designing the perfect highway noise barrier is something that can be experienced at high speed from the highway and at low (or no) speed from the non-highway side.


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