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Would audio wayfinding help Melbournians navigate the CBD?

Would audio wayfinding help Melbournians navigate the CBD?

Will Riley

Will is a talented architect and natural design team leader; confident in driving design forward in large, multidisciplinary teams.  

In Melbourne, the ambient sound of the streets is the tick-tick-tick of the street crossings. In all directions this sound follows you around the city, shadowing you on every corner. Like all Aussie cities, Melbourne is structured around a city grid – the organisational framework that defines the urban grain of the CBD.

In development terms, this is a simple tool to subdivide plots of land and but when out of sight of the water’s edge, civic square or a major landmark, it can be difficult to orientate oneself (a lot of the city is visually cluttered and very tall, making it tricky to relate one space to the next). What direction am I heading in?

 It recently occurred to me that this tick-tick-ticking could be re-imagined as a navigational tool. Using the grid system, all north-south streets could have one sound and all east-west streets could use another. With a change in pitch, sound or tone, people would easily recognise their orientation or direction of travel. This could prove to be an intuitive wayfinding solution for the visually impaired and could provide additional safety benefits for all - no more stepping out into the wrong crossing with this audible cue.

Further opportunities exist to mark each individual street with a different note or sound. North/South and East/West could be split into major and minor? Or each direction could have a separate note within one key? The whole grid could be tuned to a particular instrument dependent on the number of streets to which the system was applied.

A grid of six streets for example could be tuned E – A – D – G – B – E – the tuning of the strings of a guitar. Then each street that crossed it could act as a dividing note of the fret board, creating a musical scale, and creating a soundscape for people as they traverse the city.

This could be applied across all CBDs in Australia, providing a recognisable orientation tool at an interstate level, assisting navigation and creating a safer, more enjoyable city. Alternatively, the same system could be applied but the sound may vary dependent on state or local influences. Indigenous song lines could be mapped across the colonial overlay of the city grid. Australian artists could also be commissioned to create soundscapes for the city’s music week or religious groups engaged with to create sound art as part of their annual festivities –further civilising the city.

Will Riley

Will is a talented architect and natural design team leader; confident in driving design forward in large, multidisciplinary teams.  

How can we help?

Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about us and how we work with our clients, consultants and colleagues.