Places that Work: Soundcape

In Orlando’s Peabody Hotel’s public spaces, a positive experience is created by the sounds of water flowing and splashing.

Gently moving water makes us comfortable. Its rhythmic, primal sounds soothe away the everyday stresses of modern life. Though we have known, instinctively, about the psychological boost we get from listening to moving water–even before the effect was investigated by scientists or commercialized by the people who market desk top fountains–now we have the scientific evidence.

The sound of moving water also works as an acoustical barrier, an excellent buffer that neutralizes conversations around us in these days of cell phone mania. In fact even at normal speech volumes, water sounds will generally keep a small group’s private conversation from intruding on another’s.


More than the water feature, the Peabody Orlando like the Peabody Memphis, has resident ducks. Their quacking and splashing create an upbeat diversion in a central lobby, drawing children near, followed by their parents, who tend to watch from a distance.  The exuberant sound of ducks and the morale boost supplied by the sound of the water they splash in makes the Peabody lobby a place that works.

Sally Augustin, PhD, is a principal at Design with Science . She is also the editor of Research Design Connections and the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture (Wiley, 2009). She can be reached at

This post is part of a series of Places that Work.