Variation Of Acoustics Within A Space Architecture

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Concrete would produce loud reverberating sound whereas carpet would absorb sound. A small Dark and loud space would evoke tension in the user where as a space meant to portray joy would be large, well lit and have proper acoustic values.

Aural architecture plays many significant roles in various types of spaces such as musical, social, navigational, aesthetic and symbolic. In a musical space, the reverberation blends the note sequences into chords. In a social space it changes the distance between people in restaurants. In a navigational space it permits moving through a dark space by echolocation, as an aesthetic space it provides a pleasing aural texture and as a symbolic space it can be associated with religious meaning in the context of a space such as a cathedral (Blesser 2009)

The image above shows the shrine of St. Werburg in the Chester Cathedral. This shrine has six recesses for kneeling pilgrims to place their heads while praying. This cavity amplifies and filters the sound giving the persons voice a dramatic and emotional strength. The echoes give the sense of being in another world, the amplification gives the sense of intimacy and the visual isolation contributes to privacy. Through a repetitive usage for rituals and ceremonies, the visual and aural properties of such objects or geometries can acquire a symbolic meaning.

In the visual world, these would be called icons, and the equivalent of it in the aural world would be known as an earcon (Blesser and Salter,2007). The user will be aware of the vastness, geometry and material of the cathedral by the impression of the echo and re-echo within the space. If the material used for the cathedral was carpet instead of stone, it would be acoustically softened as well as the spatial and acoustic dimensions of the architecture will be lost. (Holl, Pallasmaa and Gomez, 2006 )

Aural architectures affect on social spaces is clearly evident in figure 2 shown below. When we think of architecture we tend to visualize the properties of the space that can be seen, specially the boundaries that are confining us to a limited space and restricting our movement as well as our legal rights of access. On the other hand, aural boundaries are different to visual boundaries as sound flows through every small opening and crevice.

Fig 2. Hogarth's enraged musicians. Hogarth portrays the dismay of a musician who finds that his private music room and the hubbub of the street are in fact a single aural space.

The figure above demonstrates how the sounds from the street flow freely through the open window of the house. Hence the street and the room with the open window share the same aural space.

Fig 3. Dan Kish's Team Bat leading blind teenagers on a bicycle ride

The role of aural architecture in navigational spaces is hardly ever recognized except by the blind individuals who rely on echolocation to help them move around (fig 3). We are not normally aware that we posses the ability to hear spatial attributes such as an open window or a wall. However every individual has an underdeveloped ability to use their ears to supplement vision. Spelunkers can get a sense of the areas of the cave that are completely hidden by listening to the reverberation and echoes (Blesser and Salter,2007). Anyone who has been spellbound by the sound of water drops in the darkness of a ruin is a witness to the extraordinary capacity of the ear to carve our volume into the void of darkness (Holl, Pallasmaa and Gomez, 2006).

The acoustic attributes of a musical space have a significant effect on the mood and behavior of an individual. This effect is best demonstrated in high impact spaces rather than ordinary spaces. Stockhausen's performance of "Stimmung" in the Jaita caves near Beirut proves this. The performance was on a platform constructed over the abbeys and the audience was 80 m away from the performers, unlike in normal concert halls. This allowed the natural acoustics to dominate the direct sound. After listening to the performance, a catholic priest said it was one of the longest and happiest prayers he had ever known.

Fig 4. Stockhausen's performance of "Stimmung" in the Jeita Cave near Beirut.

The acoustic properties of a high impact space have a greater and more effective impact on the mood and emotion of the user than in an ordinary space. However one can all recall the acoustic harshness of an inhibited and unfurnished house as apposed to the affability of a lived home. Juhani Pallasmaa writes, ' every building or space has its characteristic sounds of intimacy or monumentality, invitation or rejecting, hospitality or hostility.'

The function of aural architecture in an aesthetic space is similar to adding ornaments and texture to our visual spaces to make them look unique and interesting. In the same manner we can add aural embellishments to change the acoustics of the environment as well. In an experiment done by Eusebio Sempere, where he made a sculpture with stainless steel tubes that rotate at its base. It acts as a sonic filter which filters out transition of certain frequencies, hence the listener on one side heard a tonal modification of the sound arriving from the other side. This sculpture is a visual equivalent of the coloured glass prism.

Fig 5. Eusebio Sempere's sculpture in Madrid has unique acoustic properties.

Architecture is best perceived as sound as it leaves a lot to the imagination of the user and it is said that imagination is needed to make sense of perception. Even though sound is not the dominant medium for perceiving architecture, it is successful in giving identity to architecture as sound creates an atmosphere beyond function. In his book Eyes of the Skin, Pallasmaa states that 'Modern architecture at large has housed the intellect and the eye, but it has left the body and the other senses, as well as our memories, imagination and dreams, homeless' (pg 19).

"You see things and say why? But I dream things that never were and say why not?"


Imagination is the ability to form a mental image of something that is not directly perceived through the senses. It is the ability of the mind to form mental scenes, objects or events that do not exist, are not present or have not happened (Remez Sasson). Imagination is not only limited to seeing pictures in the mind. It includes all the five senses and feelings. One can imagine a sound, taste, smell, a physical sensation a feeling or emotion. It is imagination that makes it possible to experience a whole world inside the mind. It gives us the ability to look at any situation from a different point of view. It has a very important role and value in an individual's life and is not merely just daydreaming. Every individual possesses some ability to imagine, but in some it may be developed more than others. We all use it, consciously or unconsciously, in our daily life whether it is to read, write, plan a party or a trip, to describe an event, to tell or story, or simply just giving directions to get to a specific destination. The creative power of imagination is needed to achieve success in any field, and some individuals have a greater imagination than others. It is a power beyond creative visualization, positive thinking and affirmations (Remez Sasson). Basically, imagination is the power of making something up in one's head. Perception depends on the worldwide view of a person and imagination is needed to make sense of these perceptions.

Do you prefer your own dreams or someone else's? How about your own fantasies or someone else's? (Anthony Megna). This is the very reason why many individuals prefer reading a book in comparison to watching a movie, as the movie is someone else's view and not their own. The viewer has no power to imagine the characters, places or the events of the story as everything can be seen. Instead, when reading a novel, the reader has the opportunity to lay out their own interpretations of the story and has the power to imagine the characters, places and incidents in the story as he/she wishes. Hence reading a book leaves one with a greater capacity to imagine than watching a movie, which is someone else's fabrication. "Whenever I start reading a book I always come up with how I think a character should look or sound, so when adaptations come out and there is finally a face and voice to the character and it is different than the one in my head, it can be difficult for me to accept" says Lauren, a Harry Potter fan. Generally when comparing a movie to a book, the book wins the match because with a book, one can get more information, more scenes and a better

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