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‘Overlooked Sounds’: Reinterpreting Traditional Japanese Architecture as Aural Space

Part 2 Dissertation 2021
Ben Sykes-Thompson
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) | UK
Sound is an aspect that permeates Japan’s cultural context; shown by the many writings about its influence within linguistics, anthropology and art. However, to date, sound is all but ignored within architectural history.

When traditional Japanese buildings were defined in terms of ‘architecture’ along the western historical model by foreign architects/scholars in the late-1800s, they were being valued according to a professional mindset that since the Italian Renaissance was based on visual supremacy.

Modern western notions of architectural acoustics also date from the late-19th century, with a focus upon objective measurement and calculation of reverberation. This rationalized viewpoint ignores the potential of sound for human sensations such as expectation or memory, thereby impoverishing our subjective experience of architectural space.

This thesis argues that these ‘sounds’—at times only present in expectation—are exactly those which were ‘overlooked’ in westernised interpretations of traditional Japanese architecture. By returning to three representative buildings, the revelations offer inspiration for understanding that sound is not simply a by-product of built form, to be calculated as an engineer would for structure, but instead can be a key influence on built form which architects need to carry beyond the bland objectivity of acoustic science.

Ben Sykes-Thompson

Professor Murray Fraser
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