If you live near a major airport, the roar of passing jets isn’t just annoying–the noise is also linked to heart disease and might even eventually kill you. The more that cities sprawl, the more people are forced to live in flight paths. Now some airports are experimenting with a new solution: Land art that disrupts sound waves while doubling as a park.
At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, one of the largest travel hubs in the world, a sprawling field filled with a pattern of ridges sits next to the largest runway. When planes take off, the ridges absorb and deflect the drone of the engines on the ground. This cuts noise in half for people living in nearby neighborhoods.
When the airport first built the runway over a decade ago, it was situated on a corner of the property that pointed planes away from neighborhoods below. But even though the planes weren’t flying directly above most homes, the flat landscape amplified sounds as jets took off. At first, the airport had no idea how to solve the problem; a simple barrier, like the kind next to highways, wouldn’t be enough to slow down the low-frequency sound waves.
But then they happened to notice that noise levels decreased in the fall, when nearby fields were plowed into ridges and furrows. After testing a prototype of artificial ridges, they decided to recreate the effect permanently.
Land artist Paul de Kort worked with H.N.S. Landscape Architects to come up with a design that could work as a park. “Originally, the ridges would have been very long and straight and dull,” de Kort says. “By making this pattern, there’s a lot of corners and little open spaces. So it’s a prettier landscape.”
The design includes 150 ridges, each about 10-feet high and 36-feet wide, surrounded by small furrows. Inside the ridges, visitors can walk through maze-like paths or have picnics in outdoor “rooms” surrounded by the walls of the ridges.
The artist was partly inspired by an 18th-century scientist who experimented with sound waves by placing sand or salt on a metal tray, running a violin bow across to make it vibrate, and then looking at the patterns that resulted.
“He made sound visible,” de Kort says. “These kinds of metaphors I work with, and that inspired me.”
The park also includes a couple of smaller sound-inspired art pieces. When crossing a bridge over a small diamond-shaped pool, visitors can activate waves inside the water. “These waves are similar to sound waves,” de Kort says. “They reflect the ends of the pond, and you get these patterns similar to the patterns of the ridges in the park.”
In two other corners of the park, visitors can stand inside a dish that amplifies sound. In one spot, they can listen to the runway, while the other amplifies the sounds of birds in the open space.
The park has already started to inspire other airports: Melborne and London Gatwick are also putting in similar natural sound barriers.