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Both public artwork and acoustic shield, an innovative noise barrier has been designed for a busy stretch of the A12 in Bromley-by-Bow, east London. The installation marks the first UK use of an innovative new type of acoustic panel in a construction aimed at reducing people’s experience of noise pollution. The striking sculptural design turns a civil engineering project into a memorable public artwork.
Working closely with Beep Studio, Expedition developed the engineering concept design – lean, low-impact and fully demountable – and then guided the project through various approvals processes, including securing technical sign-off from TfL for this innovative highway infrastructure asset.
Drawing inspiration from the nearby waterways, the artwork’s geometry is one of folded surfaces and flowing lines. The folds add stiffness, texture, and interest, and this is further enhanced by the reflective material, which picks up fluctuations in light over the course of the day and accentuates the relatively low relief of the sculpture. Surface anodising provides soft and subtle colour.
The barrier is almost thirty metres in length, and reaches a peak height of three metres in front of Jefferson Plaza, where the acoustic effect has the greatest impact.
The gently dynamic installation aims to enhance resident and commuter experience both acoustically and physically.
Most acoustic treatments reduce noise by using soft or textured surfaces to absorb vibrations. The ‘Silk Metal’ system used here is intended to work differently: An aluminium sheet perforated with tiny holes less than a millimetre in diameter forms the front face of a closed box. As sound waves hit the sheet it starts to vibrate, forcing air trapped in the box through the perforations: the resulting friction slows the passage of air, which in turn reduces the vibration of the sheet, and echoing and reverberating sound.
The barrier is formed from over 60 of these sealed cassettes, all of which absorb noise generated by the road through friction, ultimately dissipating this sound energy as heat.
Each cassette in the assembly is linked together into larger groups, which in turn are mounted to a carefully articulated concrete footing. These footings require no permanent fix to the highway and can be removed through a simple crane lift.
This is the first external use of this kind of acoustic baffle in the UK, and brings this innovation to the public realm to enhance the area for pedestrians and cyclists.
The design and construction team was led by architects Beep Studio, in collaboration with Expedition, Cake Industries, Echo Barrier and Power & Line.
The project delivery was managed by housing association, Poplar HARCA, and funded by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Transport for London (TfL).
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “This innovative barrier should serve as a comfort to residents passing through the area who suffer from excessive noise emanating from the A12. We have listened to residents who have complained about the level of noise pollution and if the scheme is successful it could be rolled out elsewhere in Tower Hamlets.”
Funders: London Borough of Tower Hamlets and Transport for London
Architect: Beep Studio
Professional photographs copyright Edmund Sumner