• 5/24/2018 "Aural Architecture," by Barry Blesser & Ruth Ann Salter


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    1Hoe men tegen dezintuigen aankijkt iscultureel bepaald. Zoonderkennen de Hausaslechts twee zintuigen:zien en ervaren, waarbijonder het laatste zakenals intutie, emotie, reuk,gevoel, smaak en geluidvallen. Het gezichtwordt voornamelijkgebruikt om obstakelste vermijden. Zie IanRitchie, Fusion of thefaculties: a study of thelanguage of the senses

    in Hausaland, in: DavidHowes (red.), The Varie-ties of Sensory Experience,Toronto 1991. 2Dit artikel geeft de be-langrijkste punten weeruit ons boek: BarryBlesser en Linda Salter,

    Spaces Speak, Are You Lis-tening? Experiencing Aural

    Architecture, Cambridge,MA, 2007.

    Vanuit het perspectief van de beschouwer isruimte een zintuiglijke ervaring. We verza-melen informatie via onze ogen, oren, neusen tastzin en stellen aldus een bewustzijnvan een plek samen, en zo ervaren weook sensorische architectuur. Door onzezintuigen te gebruiken, identificeren we deplek en wat er daar gebeurt. Verder gevenwe een oordeel over onze ervaring in dieruimte, en van daaruit over de ruimte zelf.Auditieve architectuur, die de wisselwer-king onderzoekt tussen ons gehoor en denatuurlijke en gebouwde omgeving, houdtzich bezig met de ervaring dat geluid door

    de fysieke eigenschappen van een ruimteverandert. Alle geluid bestaat in een ruimte;er bestaat geen ruimteloos geluid. De bete-kenis die we aan auditieve architectuur toe-schrijven en het gebruik dat we maken vanwat we in de ruimte horen, wordt gefilterddoor culturele invloeden en persoonlijkecognitieve processen.1Mensen reagerenop het samenstel van geluid en akoestiek,zelfs zonder de oorsprong van hun reactieonder woorden te kunnen brengen. Hoewelauditieve architectuur een nieuwe disciplineis die onze reactie op geluid in de ruimte

    beschrijft, is deze opgebouwd uit fragmen-tarische kennis die allang in talloze gerela-teerde disciplines bestond.2

    En manier om auditieve architec-tuur te begrijpen, is via de vergelijking metvisuele architectuur. Hoewel we dikwijls detaal van de visuele architectuur gebruikenom auditieve ervaringen te onderzoeken,moeten we oppassen met de veronderstel-ling dat dezelfde woorden ook hetzelfdebetekenen. Ten slotte moeten we nietvergeten dat geen enkele vorm van sen-sorische architectuur beter of slechter isdan welke andere vorm waarmee de aard

    van een ruimte wordt uitgedrukt; de diversezintuigen leveren complementaire aspectenvan de ruimte op, en als we het ene zintuignegeren ten gunste van het andere zal ditons vermogen verminderen om ruimtes tebegrijpen en te ontwerpen die zowel functi-oneel zijn als waard om ervaren te worden. Hoewel het gezicht ons in staat stelt omeen statische omgeving zonder mensen ofactiviteiten waar te nemen, berust het ge-hoor op een dynamische, door de mens ofde natuur geproduceerde gebeurtenis. Hetgehoor, als een consequentie hiervan, is een

    Barry Blesser en Linda-Ruth Salter

    Auditieve architectuur:de onzichtbare ervaring van de ruimte

    1Attitudes towards thesenses depend on cul-ture. The Hausa people,for example, recogniseonly two senses: seeingand experiencing, whichitself encompassesintuition, emotion, smell,touch, taste and sound.Vision is used primarilyfor avoiding obstacles.In Ian Ritchie, Fusionof the faculties: a studyof the language of thesenses in H ausaland,in: David Howes (ed.),

    The Varieties of SensorExperience(Toronto:University of TorontoPress, 1991). 2This article presentshighlights from ourbook, Barry Blesserand Linda Salter, SpacesSpeak, Are You Listening?Experiencing Aural Archi-tecture(Cambridge, MA:MIT Press, 2007).

    From the point of view of the beholder,space is a sensory experience . We fusethe information from eyes, ears, nose andskin to form a composite awareness of aplace, thus experiencing sensory architec-ture. By using our senses, we identify theplace and identify what is occurring there.Further, we formulate a valuat ion of ourexperience in that space, and by exten-sion, of the space itself. Aural architecture,which explores the interaction betweenour auditory sense and the natural andbuilt environment, concerns the experi-ence of sounds that have been changed

    by the physical properties of a space.All sound exists in a space; there is nospaceless sound. The meanings ascribed toaural architecture and the uses we makeof what we hear in space are filteredthrough cultural biases and personalcognitive processes.1People respond tothe composite of sound and acousticseven without the ability to articulate theorigin of their response. Although auralarchitecture is a new discipline that makesexplicit our response to sound in space, itis built from fragmentary knowledge that

    has existed for a long time in numerousrelated disciplines.2

    One way of understanding aural archi-tecture is to compare it to visual architec-ture. Although we often use the languageof visual architecture to explore auralexperience, we must be wary of assumingthat the same words mean the same things.Finally, we must remember that each formof sensory architecture is neither betternor worse than the others in expressingthe nature of a space; the senses providecomplimentary aspects of space, andignoring one sense in favour of another

    decreases our abilities to appreciate anddesign spaces that are both functional andworth experiencing. Although vision allows us to perceivea static environment without people oractivities, hearing depends upon dynamicevents created by man or nature. As aconsequence, hearing is an importantmeans by which we are connected to suchevents. A shoe hitting a hard floor signalsthe approach of someone; whistling acheerful tune broadcasts emotional com-fort; a heated dialog radiates interpersonal

    Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter

    Aural Architecture:The Invisible Experience of Space

  • 5/24/2018 "Aural Architecture," by Barry Blesser & Ruth Ann Salter



    Blinde tieners, fietsendin de heuvels vanCaliforniBlind teenagers riding inthe hills of California

    4Edward T. Hall, TheHidden Dimension(NewYork: Doubleday & Co,1966). 5This a historic namethat incorrectly as-sumes explicit echoesas would be the case

    for bats. A betterlabel is auditory spatialawareness withoutrequiring perceptualechoes from a vocalisedsource of sound. 6Denis Diderot, Letteron the blind, in: EarlyPhilosophical Works(NewYork: Lenox Hill Publish-ers, 1972 [1749]). 7Steven Hausfeld et al.,Echo perception ofshape and texture bysighted subjects, Percep-tual Motor Skills, 55 no. 2(1982), 623-632. 8Daniel Kish, Evaluationof an echo-mobility

    program for youngblind people, MA thesisat California State Uni-versity, San Bernadino,1995. 9Ray Charles and DavidRitz, Brother Ray(NewYork: The Dial Press,1978).

    with domed roof. It can be very small:the noise of an urban street masking thesound of a walkers own footsteps. From asocial and emotional perspective, a listeneris functionally deaf to all events beyondhis acoustic horizon, outside his acousticarena. Rules for the use of acoustic arenas areknown. Often they match the culturally de-termined rules for using physical distanceas an expression of social relationshipsthat Edward Hall, a social anthropolo-gist, conceptualised and called proxemics. Ifwe are thrust into an acoustic arena thatdoesnt match our social relationship, weare uncomfortable.4Hence, eavesdrop-ping on strangers is intrusive, whispering ishighly intimate, and shouting at someonestanding next to you is punitive. To besocially useful, acoustic arenas and theirproperties must match the cultural normsgoverning social spheres. A space designedto have good social spatiality will havethe acoustics that support the appropriatesize and shape of acoustic arenas. It alsoinduces inhabitants to create sonic events

    at the appropriate intensity to use thespace for the most useful number and sizeof acoustic arenas.

    Navigational spatialityrefers to thoseaural cues that allow us to successfullymove through a space without using vision.Using aural cues to navigate through andorient in a space is called echolocation.5Even without special training, almost every-one can hear a nearby wall because thelow-frequency energy of ambient noise isboosted near its surface. Similarly, a largecolumn creates a sharp acoustic shadow athigh frequencies for those sonic events thatare obscured by it. We hear the small vol-

    ume of a bathroom by its resonances, andwe sense the vastness of an undergroundcavern by its long reverberation time. Wecan hear low ceilings, open doors, the pres-ence of walls and vast open spaces.

    Some blind individuals have refined theart of seeing space by careful listening; theFrench philosopher Diderot first reportedthe phenomenon in 1749.6In laboratorystudies, some individuals could distinguishsquare, circular and triangular objects bylistening.7Dan Kish, who was blind fromchildhood, taught himself echolocation, and

    he is now a licensed teacher for orienta-tion and mobility.8Along with a colleague,Kish founded TeamBat, a programme thatguides blind teenagers into the mountainson bicycle trips, as shown in the figure.Similarly, Ray Charles, the blind musician,moved through life without the use of acane, seeing-eye dog or other tactile aids.9

    Those with normal vision are unlikelyto depend solely on hearing to movethrough a space, except perhaps in un-avoidable darkness. Nevertheless, naviga-tional spatiality is an important supplementto vision. When walking through a spacelistening to loud music on headphones, oursense of confidence is diminished becausewe become functionally deaf to thoseaural cues that we subconsciously use tonavigate. Every space produces aural cuesthat contribute to our ability to navigateand orient in a space.

    Symbolic spatialityresults when the spe-cial meaning of places or events becomesclosely associated with experiencing corre-sponding spatial acoustics. Although visualsymbolism is well recognised, the process

    of symbolic linkage also takes place withthe other senses. In the visual world, thesesymbols are called icons, and by symmetry,aural symbols are earcons, which may beeither unusual sonic events or particularspatial acoustics. Any form of memorableacoustics coupled with certain events can,with repeated exposure, become associat-ed with the meaning of a particular place.Even though spatial earcons are seldomthe result of conscious design intent, sym-bolism results from repeated exposure.

    Consider the enveloping reverberationof a grand cathedral. It becomes linked tothe sounds of the religious ceremonies that

    take place within that space. After par-ticipating in hundreds of ceremonies, theattributes of both visual and aural archi-tecture come to represent gods home onearth. Both stained glass windows and longreverberation become religious symbols.Similarly, the unique acoustics of forestsand mountains can become a symbol ofnature; the hushed quiet of an elegant of-fice can become a symbol of wealth; andthe diffuse echoes of a vast office entry canbecome a symbol of power. The acousticsof a well-designed podium convey the

  • 5/24/2018 "Aural Architecture," by Barry Blesser & Ruth Ann Salter



    10David Lubman, Archae-ological acoustic studyof chirped echo fromthe Mayan pyramid atChichn Itz, Journalof the Acoustical Societyof America, 104 (1998)nr. 3, p. 1763, en eenuitgebreide versie en

    vertegenwoordigen. Zowel de glas-in-lood-ramen als de lange talmende galm wordentot religieuze symbolen. Op dezelfde wijzekan de unieke akoestiek van wouden enbergen een symbool van de natuur worden,de serene rust van een stijlvol kantoor gaateen symbool van rijkdom vormen, en dediffuse echos in de enorme toegangshalvan een kantoorpand kunnen een symboolvan macht worden. De akoestiek van eengoed ontworpen podium representeert hetsymbool van dominantie. De oude Griekenmeenden dat het geluid van de eolusharpde geest van de wind was die de hemelse

    muzen meevoerde. Van de tsjilp-achtigeecho teweeggebracht door de trappen vande Piramide van Kukulkan in Chichn Itzwordt wel gedacht dat dit symbool stondvoor de heilige vogel van de Mayas, deluisterrijke quetzal.10

    Het bewust ontwikkelen van auditieveiconen, vooral geluiden die geassocieerdworden met bepaalde ruimtes, kan bijdra-gen aan het scheppen van het unieke gevoelvan een plek. Door de globalisering vande architectuur zijn er uniforme, sterieleruimtes ontstaan, zonder enige speciale

    betekenis of ervaring, waarin je gemakkelijkgedesorinteerd kunt raken of verdwalen.Een grotere verscheidenheid aan ruimteskan deels bereikt worden door auditieveiconen te creren die symbolisch significantzijn en voor unieke en opvallende auditieveervaringen zorgen. Esthetische ruimtelijkheid beschrijft derijke variatie aan lokale akoestiek die zorgtvoor een uiteenlopende auditieve textuur.Het timbre van de weerkaatsing is afhan-kelijk van het soort van vlakken in eenruimte. Zo kun je denken aan een wand dieafwisselend is samengesteld uit resonantie-

    holtes, absorptiepanelen en weerkaatsendevlakken die de geluidservaring divers makenals je erlangs loopt. Bepaalde delen van nen dezelfde ruimte kunnen een verschillendeakoestiek hebben. Neem bijvoorbeeld hetkoepelplafond in een van de gangen ophet vliegveld van Houston. Als je het ge-deelte met de vlakke plafonds verlaat enin het deel met de gebogen plafonds komt,hoor je ineens de luide echo van je eigenvoetstappen. De plotselinge veranderingin akoestiek maakt je heel duidelijkbewust van de veranderde ruimtelijke


    >De Piramide vanKukulkan inChichn ItzThe Pyramid of Kukulanat Chichn Itz

    10David Lubman, Archae-ological acoustic studyof chirped echo fromthe Mayan pyramid atChichn Itz, Journalof the Acoustic Societyof America, 104 (1998),1763, and extendedversion at www.ocasa.

    org/MayanPyramid.htm.and 11R. Mrtinez-Sala, J.Sancho, J. Sanchez, V.Gomez, J. Llinares andF. Meseguer, Sound at-tenuation by sculpture,

    Nature378 no. 6554(1995), 241; and J.Snchez-Prez, et al.,Sound attentuationby a two-dimensionalarray of rigid cylinders,

    Physical Review Letters80 no. 24 (1998),5325-5328. 12Michael Kurtz, Stock-hausen: A Biography(London: Farber and

    Farber, 1992). 13Ruth Y. Litovsky,H. Colbu rn, W. Yost andS. Guzman, The pre-cedence effect, Journalof the Acoustical Societyof America, 106 no. 4(1999), 1633-1654. 14In the acousticliterature for musicin concert halls, auralmass is called apparentsource width.

    symbol of dominance. The early Greeksthought that the sounds of the Aeolianharp were the spirit of the wind carry-ing the heavenly muses. The chirped echoproduced by the staircases of the Pyramidof Kukulkan at Chichn Itz is thought tohave been a symbol of the sacred Mayanbird, the resplendent Quetzal.10

    Conscious ly developing earcons, partic-ular sounds associated with specific spaces,can contribute to the creation of a uniquesense of place. Architectural globalisa-tion has produced uniform sterile spacesdevoid of special meaning and experience,where it is easy to become disoriented andlost. Differentiation among spaces can beachieved in part through creating sym-bolically meaningful earcons that produceunique and memorable aural experiences. Aesthetic spatiality describes the richvariety of local acoustics that providevarying auditory texture. Reverberationtimbre depends on the type of surfaces in aspace. One could imagine a wall composedof alternating resonant cavities, absorptionpanels, and reflective surfaces that change

    the experience of sound as one movesalong its length. Local regions within asingle space may have different acoustics.Consider the domed ceiling along oneof the corridors in the Houston airport.Moving from the flat ceiling area to thecurved ceiling area, one suddenly hearsstrong echoes of footsteps. The suddenchange in acoustics creates a striking senseof a textured space changing. Plush uphol-stery and deep pile carpets create an auralsense of warmth, which arises because theyabsorb almost all of the high-frequencysound energy. Conversely, marble floorsand glass walls create an aural sense of

    coldness, because they reflect and magnifythe high-frequency sounds. Contemporary artists create artworkwhose impact in part depends upon chang-ing the sounds around and within them.Richard Serras monumental sculpturalobjects enclose the viewer, shutting outsounds external to the pieces, and chang-ing the sound qualities within them. EusebioSempere created a sculpture composedof a three-dimensional array of polishedstainless-steel tubes that rotates at itsbase. In addition to its provocative visual

    effect as the moving surfaces reflect in thesunlight, it is also a sonic filter that blockstransmission of particular frequencies.11Alistener on one side hears a tonal modifica-tion of those sound sources located on theother side, the visual equivalent of colouredglass prisms.

    Music spatiality, which has been studiedextensively, refers to the attributes of aspace that are an integral part of musicperformance. The acoustics of a perfor-mance space fuse with the sounds of voicesand musical instruments to create meta-instruments. Contemporary composersand sound installation artists recognise thepower of fusing, creating compositions thatincorporate particular performance spaces.For example, Stockhausens Stimmungacquired a new personality when it wasperformed in the unique acoustics of theJeita Cave in Lebanon.12Aural architects,even those who are not interested in howspatial acoustics influences music, can learnmuch from a century of work on real andvirtual concert halls. Our understandingof enveloping reverberation, aural mass

    and the precedence effect originated fromresearch on musical spatiality.13

    Implications for Spatial DesignAn aural architect makes physical designdecisions that are coupled to choicesabout the aural experience of a space. Forexample, consider the attributes of a wall,which include its materials, orientation, size,texture, curvature, and so on. Choices forthe wall will, in turn, influence the auditoryexperience of the space: the size and shapeof acoustic arenas, the degree to whichmultiple conversations will remain private,the apparent aural mass14of a speaker in

    specific locations, the sense of being insidea sound or remote from it, the degreeof confidence in moving through a spacewith inadequate illumination, a sense ofaural texture, and the degree to which thespace will elevate arousal or attentiveness.Selecting among these aural attributesrequires the designer to consider culturalvalues, cognitive experiences and thepurposes of the space. Depending on theexpectations of the various stakeholders, aspace will work or fail to the degree theiraural goals are met.

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