It’s not one of our more celebrated scientific axioms, but it’s true nonetheless: Plowed fields dampen noise. After this fact was discovered in 2008 by a group trying to reduce ground-level noise at Schiphol Airport outside Amsterdam, architects, designers, and engineers decided to build a landscape in the airport’s surrounding fields that could quiet plane traffic for communities adjacent to the international hub. The project enlisted the aid of Dutch artist Paul de Kort, who designed an 81-acre park that has reduced noise at Schiphol by 2 or 3 decibels.
Following the 2003 construction of Schiphol’s Polderbaan runway, which is more than 2 miles long, ground-level noise intensified at the international airport. Some of this noise could be heard 18 miles away. To solve the problem, de Kort took inspiration from an unusual source: 18th century German physics.
In 1787, the German physicist and musician, Ernst Chladni (sometimes called the father of acoustics), demonstrated the relationship between noise and geometry with what are now called Chladni figures. Running a violin bow across the edge of a metal plate covered in sand, Chladni found that the sand particles vibrated into
De Kort designed a series of ridges at Schiphol inspired by Chladni’s geometrical work. The result is 81 acres of interlocking creases that dampen the roar of the Polderbaan.
The distance between the ridges, 36 feet, is equivalent to the wavelength of the airport noise. Rising to a height of 10 feet, they make an impressive sight from the air, but it’s what they accomplish on the ground that truly makes a difference. As airports get bigger and bigger and serve larger and larger populations, it remains to be seen if other airports take up Schiphol’s landscaping answer to noise pollution.