‘Sound Field’: lending your ear to people with dementia

Jennifer Shand Jennifer Shand Australasia Press Office,Sydney
26 September 2019

Arup, BLOXAS Architects and DesignSingapore Council are co-presenting Sound Field – an exhibition aimed at raising awareness about the role of sound in urban design and simulating what it might feel like to live with dementia. 

This immersive and interactive installation is showcased at the National Design Centre in Singapore, following its inclusion in the recent Enabling Festival 2019.

Often, people with dementia cannot determine the sources of sounds and distinguish between them, which can be very overwhelming. 

The exhibition is aimed at raising awareness about the role of sound in urban design and simulating what it might feel like to live with dementia.

The installation features a recording of everyday sounds, from within the home to public spaces. The individual ‘trees’ work as a collective sound field to rebound and reflect these sounds. Visitors are encouraged to rotate the sound panels and experience how our daily aural environment, which goes unnoticed by most us, can become distressing for people with dementia. 

It was a rare opportunity to collaborate with BLOXAS, National Design Centre and Enable Asia on such a meaningful project. Working on Sound Field was personally fulfilling and I hope the exhibition helps people to understand and empathise with dementia sufferers and their caregivers. ”

Benjamin Cheng Benjamin Cheng Acoustic Consultant

Arup’s acousticians worked closely with BLOXAS Architects to design the different trees in the sound field. Some trees include hidden transducers that turn them into loudspeakers – broadcasting selected sounds in all directions. Other trees have integrated loudspeakers that use a unique ultra-high frequency technology to create a very thin beam of sound. This can be ‘bounced’ around from surfaces like a ball on a pool table. 

The moveable panels allow visitors to direct sounds in different ways, creating ever-changing sound fields that appear to come from multiple locations. This effect adds to the level of confusion and disorientation. 

In Singapore, the Alzheimer’s Disease Association estimates that almost 82,000 people may have suffered from dementia in 2018, a number that is expected to exceed 100,000 in a few years.  

I hope Sound Field helps to generate awareness of sound and dementia in Singapore. We look forward to starting a process that results in a better understanding of how dementia affects the perception of sound and how we can make all spaces more dementia-friendly. ”

Nick Boulter Nick Boulter Associate Principal, Acoustics

Sound Field is open until 6 October at the National Design Centre in Singapore. It was first shown at the Alzheimer’s Australia National Conference 2017 and at MPavilion, Melbourne, Australia in 2018.