ifc Mall: High-end Shopping Destination, First-rate Soundscape?

A prominent landmark on Hong Kong Island, the International Finance Centre (branded as “ifc”) stands proudly at the Central waterfront. The complex comprises some of the most exclusive office space in Hong Kong, the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel, as well as a leading destination for high-end shopping: ifc mall.

During busy hours when people hurry to arrive at offices and hurry back home after work, the sound of fast-paced walking and high heels clicking on floor are especially prominent. We may all hear classical music playing at a mall but seldom do we listen to it. Yet when we do listen, the background music at ifc is not constantly heard. It may get uneven when background music is heard louder at some spots while not at all perceivable at other locations. It may not matter much as reported by mall-goers of what they perceive within their awareness. However, little noticed as it may, it may sound glaring when the classical music at the background clashes with music of entirely different genres from some stores, such as the rock music played by a Hi-Fi store in the mall.

There may be other aspects of the sonic environment in neglect. The sound of trolleys clashing at Citysuper contrasts glaringly with the relative quiet of the cosmetic stores nearby. The passages in ifc are wider compared to a lot of shopping malls in Hong Kong, hence intensifying the reflection of sound. Pleasant sound magnified will contribute to the likeability of ifc’s sonic environment; unwanted sound amplified will reinforce its undesirability.

Do you think ifc’s soundscape lives up to its expectations of being a high-end mall?

Café Landmark: How to Nail the Optimum Sound Level

Nestled in Central, the financial heart of the city, Landmark is commonly known as a gathering place for well-heeled shoppers because it offers top-tier, opulent shopping and lifestyle experiences. For ladies taking a break from shopping and local office workers wanting a convenient business lunch, the upmarket mall offers international cuisine with an Asia-inspired refinement in its CAFÉ LANDMARK.

Devoting a large open area to CAFÉ LANDMARK on its first floor, Landmark foregrounds the restaurant’s central location. Some tables overlook the buzz of the shops below as the sun bathes the building with light through the high glass ceiling, aiming to evoke an illusion of a floating restaurant. Faint, soft, murmuring classical music is wafting through the air, the mall, at the dining scene, inducing a laidback atmosphere. Diners’ voices are low and controlled with clanking of cutlery occasionally heard. This seems a perfect sound environment according to a study published by the Journal of Culinary Science & Technology which determined that food tastes best to diners when classical music is softly played and there’s the presence of subtle background chatter. Apart from setting the mood and increasing the satisfaction of the diners’ taste buds, music serves to mask noise of the clinking of cutlery.

Being at a fancy restaurant like CAFÉ LANDMARK where a three-course meal for two persons can cost around HK$700, you expect nothing less from its food experience which includes an optimum sound level.

Reference: How Music Establishes Mood and Drives Restaurant Profits

PMQ: A Breath of Fresh Air Amongst Malls in HK

Original campus of Queen’s College and rebuilt in the 50s as Police Married Quarters, PMQ (元創方) in Central is now a hub for creative and design industries. Geographically, although PMQ is only 3 minutes away from the entertainment zone SoHo, music from bars and restaurants is blocked by the buildings along Aberdeen Street and PMQ is tucked away from the hustle and bustle. Architecturally, it exemplifies the modern style commonly found after World War II, characterised by a functional and pragmatic approach on elevations and interior layout, with minimum decoration. Its semi-open design has set PMQ apart from most malls in Hong Kong.

An inclusive soundscape – The semi-open setting of PMQ enables natural ventilation as well as the penetration of sounds from the surroundings. While wind (instead of air conditioning) caresses your hair, it carries with it sounds wafting from different locations inside and near PMQ: traffic sound from Aberdeen Street where PMQ is situated, sound of kitchen utensils clashing from a cooking studio, shrieks of a coffee machine in motion from a café, and laughs of children from a design studio.

Incorporating nature – PMQ introduces natural sounds into the complex by including a small garden named Plateau, harmonising man-made sounds mentioned above. Plateau on the 4th floor is perhaps the most outstanding feature of PMQ. They are landscaped open spaces which connect the two main blocks of PMQ. The greenery space has created a natural habitat for birds and insects, bringing liveliness and diverseness to the sonic environment.

PMQ’s semi-open design enables sound to reach a wider audience. Sounds heard from different spots tell a different story. Each sound perceived promises an experience for you to discover. Contextualising sounds make our experiences of PMQ more complete.

Yum Cha with The Lively Soundscape of Chinese Restaurant

A melting pot of Eastern and Western characteristics, Hong Kong is thronged with restaurants gratifying your palate with a diversity of flavours. The unlimited variety of food in every class has given Hong Kong the reputable labels of “Gourmet Paradise” and “World’s Fair of Food”. With Chinese being the most predominant cultural group in Hong Kong, Chinese food forms the backbone of dine-out scenes. Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong are adored by locals and tourists alike.

Everyone having been to a Chinese restaurant must have noted how loud and noisy the place can be. Yum Cha is usually a happy and boisterous occasion, when family and friends gather to sip tea and eat dim sum. It has been measured that the noise level at various Chinese Restaurants ranged from 66.4 to 79.7 dB(A). It is the mingled sound of eating utensils colliding, food being chewed and devoured, diners’ hearty laughs and animated chatting, and announcement of dishes being served. Although it is hardly gentle to the ears, people usually stay long in a Chinese restaurant. Being noisy accords with most people’s conceptions or expectations of Chinese restaurants and diners usually get used to the volume after some time.

Imagine the restaurant noise is much cut down, how do you think the Chinese dining experience will be altered?

Reference: “A Comparative Study of Noise Levels in Hong Kong” by Environmental Protection Department

Harmonising Indoor Soundscape of Shopping Malls

Soundscape falls on deaf ears – Growing up in Hong Kong, you may have often heard the metropolis is described as a shopping paradise. Malls in Hong Kong are plentiful and varied, they come in all shapes and sizes, promising and offering something for everyone. For many tourists visiting the city, shopping is at the top of the must-do list. For locals, shopping is one of the most popular social activities which malls are one of the most frequented hang out indoor locations. You shop in a mall; you dine, chill out with friends in a mall; you take photos with mall decoration; but can you recall the soundscape of any mall you have been to? If you struggle with the recalling, it may point out the common fact that people seldom hear a mall.

To hear is part of the experience – Being in a mall is an experience. It is an experience contributed by your senses, including sight, hearing, and smell. Soundscape refers to the component sounds of an environment, or elements in a sonic environment. You see a variety of products in shop windows and they stimulate your sight; you smell the perfume suffused in the mall with every breath you take. Have you ever paid attention to what you hear in a shopping mall? What do you expect or want to hear in a mall?

Consensus on a soundscape – Each mall-goer may prefer or expect a particular sonic environment, which may be at odds with what the shop owners and mall managers want customers are to perceive. How to make the soundscape favourable to everyone when various stakeholders have different considerations or prioritisation in mind? While malls define themselves by varied soundscape, you may not be aware of what they are trying to do to you.