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Sound and soft architecture

Sound and soft architecture

Title Image: Karlheinz Stockhausen

This article seeks to view the concept of soft architecture through the lens of sound. And further to establish a connection between Responsive spaces and Music through the writings of Nicholas Negroponte and Philip Beesley. What is the relationship between soft architecture and sound? And can responsive spaces clarify or give new meaning to the relationship between individuals and musical performances?

Nicholas Negroponte and his work with cybernetician Gordon Pask sought to clarify our relationship  to both our built environment but also the machines and systems that surrounds us. The concept of soft architecture describes an architecture which both responds to our actions but also inscribe our behavior, as Usman Haque describes it: “Pask’s early experiments with mechanical and electrochemical systems provide a conceptual framework for building interactive artifacts that deal with the natural dynamic complexity that environments must have without becoming prescriptive, restrictive and autocratic.” (Usman, H. (2007). The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask. Architectural Design. page 55)

Is there a clear division between soft and hard architecture, flexible and inflexible architecture? As Negroponte argues: “Every state of a manipulative environment is in a very real sense non flexible. To achieve a multiplicity of uses, the environment must undergo a physical transformation.”(Negroponte, N (1976). Soft Architecture machines. MIT Press.  page 132)  .

One may view the way sound transforms a physical space in this way, at first glance sound may seem fluid and almost immaterial, but sound has its very distinct physical properties. Though it has the possibility of rapidly transforming a space, as it uses air as its medium. Gordon Pask Exhibited alongside electronic music composer Peter Zinovieff at the exhibition “cybernetic serendipity” at the ICA       in 1968.

 

Philip Rahm raises this question through his project Pulmonary space: “Does not music, with its waves, physical impressions on the air and distillation of vapor, begin to take on an architectural form?”(philippe Rahm http://www.philipperahm.com/data/projects/pulmonaryspace/index.html last entered 3.11.2015) The project consists of a pneumatic structure which absorbs the breath of a group of musicians gradually turning the music into an architectural space. The project also raises the question on our focus on visual information in modern society.

pul1

pul4Philippe Rahm – Pulmonary space

Omar Khan and Philip Beesley introduces the model of design as a conversation rather than a exchange of information.(Beesley, P., Haque, U., Khan, O., Scholz, T., & Shepard, M. (2009). Responsive Architecture / Performing Instruments, 4, 45. page 21) this opens the possibility of transcending a top-down patriarchal approach to architectural design.

The spaces are not fi  d encoded with only one meaning or inherent behavior. The adaptation of the architecture happens through a constant negotiation and open discussion.
Because the idea of a responsive architecture raises the question of power and of who has the opportunity to shape and define the performance of our built environments.

“For too long architecture has made the ocular the exclusive interface. Not only do the other senses need to be reconsidered but also perceptions that are extrasensory—like of Hertzian spaces.” (Beesley, P., Haque, U., Khan, O., Scholz, T., & Shepard, M. (2009). Responsive Architecture / Performing Instruments, 4, 45. page 41) The shift from a visual focus may enable us to explore architectural space in a more free way. Beesley questions the notion of the Proscenium as an interface between the performer and the audience.(Beesley, P., Haque, U., Khan, O., Scholz, T., & Shepard, M. (2009). Responsive Architecture / Performing Instruments, 4, 45. page 24) This issue can also be found in the traditional concert hall. The space creates a fixed relationship between the performer and the listener. The listener has to accept his or her place within the space and is not free to take other positions.

Karlheinz Stockhausen is a composer questioned the rigidity of the concert hall. In his piece Music für ein Haus Stockhausen enabled the listeners to move through a series of spaces, each space had its performers and its own piece of music.(Ulrich Obrist, H. (2013) A brief history of modern music. JRP Ringier Kunstverlag, page 31)  The listener is enabled to curate their own listening experience. This way of experiencing the sound is different from the individual experience of listening as it exists in a collective space, though each individual is free to position himself according to the sound. This experience may be closer to Reyner Banhams concept of the bonfire as a “concentric gradient of heat”.(Beesley, P., Haque, U., Khan, O., Scholz, T., & Shepard, M. (2009). Responsive Architecture / Performing Instruments, 4, 45. page 37.)  each musical moment creates a point in a system of gradients of sound. The experience of the sound is altered by the spatial context at the same time the music encourages people to move and behave in new ways. One might say that the music creates its own architectural space which provokes action and reaction.

Bibliography:

Usman, H. (2007). The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask. Architectural Design
Negroponte, N (1976). Soft Architecture machines. MIT Press
Rahm, P http://www.philipperahm.com/data/projects/pulmonaryspace/index.html last entered 3.11.2015
Ulrich Obrist, H. (2013) A brief history of modern music. JRP Ringier Kunstverlag

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