Urban Ecological Melody


General Design

Providence, RI, USA | CC (Qinhe) Qian, Student ASLA | Graduate | Faculty Advisors: Emily Vogler; Scheri Fultineer
Rhode Island School of Design


What does urban ecology sound like?

The design for South Pier Park in Providence, Rhode Island, seeks to provide habitat for species as well as human access to the waterfront in an urban context. By introducing two main target species with strong acoustical characteristics, the proposal of this project develops a sound co-habitat. When going through from the city to the water, visitors experience a transition from the sound of the I-95 highway into the site, moving from the sound of cars and horns, to friendly conversation, to reeds blowing in the wind, water flowing, kids playing, birds’ singing, spring peeper whistling, wave lapping…

In addition, the site directs and treats the city stormwater to reduce runoff and create different types of habitat and diverse water experience for people on the site.


Located 1-mile south of Downtown Providence, the South Pier was historically an industrial pier for shipping and now is vacant. The I-95 highway next to the site acts as a barrier and disconnects the site to its neighborhood and downtown. The sound of heavy traffic from the highway predominate the site. Thus, this project seeks a new way to investigate sound experience by orchestrating a series of new melodies of sounds from different species, and reshape the relationship between ecology and urban system. Additionally, this can provide opportunities to be designed as the choreograph of urban experience.

In order to amplify the sound experience, simple parabolic walls are also used to reflect the sound of different species as well as providing space for gathering and events.

Design Intent

1. Reintroducing species with strong acoustical character

The project seeks to introduce black-capped chickadee and spring peeper, which have recognizable acoustical character. By creating a main birch forest combined with other trees, the goal is to provide food and shelter to attract black-capped chickadee, which has high-pitch song like flute, as well as other migratory song birds. In addition, habitat is created for spring peeper, a small frog, whose recurring cheeping whistle marks the onset of spring in rural New England. Through the creation of shallow ponds, the project aims to bring the characteristic peeper sound into the city. People can become aware and educated about the species not just on a visual level, but also on an acoustical level.

2. Multifunction structures

To enhance and concentrate this acoustical experience, parabolic walls are designed to reflect sound, which serve to exclude the highway noise. These walls also provide moments for visitors to gather and sit down for listening. Additionally, these multifunctional structures are also for city runoff collection. Fresh water can be collected and treated during raining seasons and be kept in certain level to maintain the 2-inch deep requirement of spring peeper habitat.

“How wonderful to discover sound being used as a form-giver! Truly imaginative. The graphics used to strengthen the concept of melody and sound were pretty powerful”

- 2016 Awards Jury