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Soundscapes in Authentic Buildings

Sound as Design Material

Whether working towards tangible or intangible design outcomes, designers use a range of different materials to support their creative processes, both as part of individual and collective practices. In design processes sound is often considered a secondary material, which is often first considered when the design is almost complete where the design choices are limited by the remaining material composition (Jansen et al. 2011). Furthermore, sound has often been considered part of fields of its own; sound design, sonic interaction design, soundscape design, in which distinct educations and skill sets are developed into for instance audio designers, producers and audio engineers.

In our project we seek to investigate sounding material from a design studies perspective, exploring how sound can be used and integrated into design practices where sketching, prototyping etc. are common practices. Here, a designer does not need to be a painter to draw a sketch - how can we think of sound in the same way?

When working with sound as design material there are some central differences in its qualities compared to visual material material. Sound is ephemeral as it can only be heard as long as it plays, whereas the visual material is persistent and can be studied as such (Dix & Gongora, 2011). Even though there are differences in the ways e.g., visual and sonic material exist in the world, we also found many similarities. Building on Bill Buxton (2010) characteristics of sketching, we found that if sound should be used as a material for sketching, then it should be quickly produced, disposable, with minimal detail, not exist as isolated/individual renderings, be explorative rather than confirming and open to interpretations (Udsen & Halskov, 2022).                                 

Delle Monache et al. (2015) has proposed to describe the sonic sketch as a composition of simple sonic elements that illustrates complex sonic concepts. This definition is very similar to Bill Buxton, also focusing on simplicity to quickly show complexity. It can be argued that sonic sketching is not as accessible as visual sketching; most of us have access to pen and paper, but not all of us have access to, for instance, a recording device which is needed to capture sounds and make them persistent. But, the accessibility of tools for sonic sketching is growing; most of us have recorders in our smartphones as well as there are several free (CC0 licensed) sound libraries online, as well as free audio editing software such as Reaper and Audacity.


  • Delle Monache, S., Rocchesso, D., Baldan, S., & D. Mauro. (2015). Growing the practice of vocal sketching. Proc. of the 21st International Conference on Auditory Display (ICAD-2015), 59–65, Graz, Styria, Austria, 2015    
  • Dix, A., & Gongora, L. (2011). Externalization and design. In Proceedings of the second conference on creativity and innovation in design, 31-42
  • Jansen, R. J., Özcan, E., & van Egmond, R. (2011). Psst! product sound sketching tool. Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, 59(6), 396-403.
  • Udsen, A. & Halskov, K. (2022). Soundscape Design for Historical Buildings as a Sonic Placemaking Process. DRS2022 (Forthcoming)