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Sound Building

Part 1 Project 2008
Robert Highsmith
Rhode Island School of Design Providence USA
Silence is an invention of the modern world; it must be measured from a stream of noise. Our senses adapt to inform us of our place, as sound creates a landscape that changes over time. Equilibrium is lost and gained, forcing us to reconcile our place; the body in the mind.

Acoustic research has necessitated the development of chambers to study the extremes of the sonic spectrum. Anechoic and echoic chambers exist that test the limits of our senses. The quality produced in these chambers modifies not only our perception, but affects the inner calibration of balance and utility.

A room, building, city, and ecology have a boundary condition that is static, yet activate a sonic quality. This quality can be profound, enough to affect our degree of consciousness. Geometry provokes a response to conditions; the flow of water and air, the movement of light, and the treatment of noise.

In the modern landscape, articulate sound is lost in a sea of noise. Yet this can lead to sublime experience. Meaning is constructed through the mental projection of sound into 3 dimensions in a world that is increasingly disembodied. Listening gives spatial awareness; the sonic world must be constructed and reconstructed.

The composer holds the privileged situation of listening and making. He sits at the task, in between looking and observing, hearing and listening; the latent and the dynamic. Instruments have historically replicated the human voice. They now replicate the modern condition. The chamber that he occupies should be both document and hope.

I set out not only to map the presence of sound, but to study the effect of sound on materials, and materials on sound. What I discovered was the aspect ratio of three-dimensional geometry; the infinite divisibility of material. I am currently translating these studies into a more defined set of orthographic drawings.

Robert Highsmith

Taking music or sound as a subject matter is not uncommon for architectural thesis work. I have seen these a dozen times in twenty years of teaching. The depth at which this student has conceptually and materially woven the two realms is what distinguishes his work. His research is directed from the simultaneous point of view of musician and architect. One medium is not representing the other, but rather the laws of each medium that have analogous properties in the other are worked back and forth with technical and conceptual precision. For example, sound is literally used to deflect material and the acoustical properties of the deflected material are recorded and studied.

What is important to add is that the path of his investigation continued as the unfolding path of an artist. This was not a scientifically directed study, but an engagement in the medium of sound and space as an artist/architect. I think the student has outlined a project worthy of a bigger investment which may take years of work.


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