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					Sonic Space
Joel Sanders Architect (with Karen Van Lengen and Ben Rubin)


REPORT
Building upon my ongoing preoccupations with architecture and the human senses, my proposed
BSA research project “Sonic Space,” will enable me and members of my design studio to pursue
the tectonic implications of hearing. Focusing on a building type we too often take for granted,
dwellings, our goal is to develop a provocative design proposition that link sight and sound in fresh
and alternative ways. If all goes according to plan, our speculative design studies will find their way
into a built residential commission, “The Sound House,” currently being developed at my office for
Karen Van Lengen, Dean University of Virginia. Not a linear process, we conduct our research in
three design phases.


STAGE 1: VEIL
Karen van Lengen, Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia, invites JSA to
collaborate with her on the design of her own home sited on a steeply sloping site that commands
panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains — an ideal setting for a house that both sees and
hears the landscape.
We conceive of the project as a critique of the conventional vacation house that allows occupants
to visually appropriate the landscape framed through glazed window walls. Instead the three-story
volume of the house is clad in a veil of metal louvers that obscures the view, encouraging its
owners to focus on aural rather than visual perceptions. A circulation core allows visitors to descend
from the roof terrace, pass through the house’s three major living levels (master bedroom, living,
guest room/study), and out to the wooded landscape below. In contrast to the house’s network
of introverted sonic domestic chambers, at the second floor, a cantilevered glass living bar affords
panoramic views.
If we are committed to the concept of wrapping the house in a shroud that highlights sound instead
of sight, as the design process unfolds we find it increasing difficult to identify convincing sonic
strategies that will allow the house to hear the domestic landscape. Our Ideas include a dining room
and study generated according to acoustical principals, a resonant roof that amplifies the sound of
wind and rain, and a device that would transform and make audible overlooked everyday domestic
noises created by infrastructures like plumbing and HVAC. After sifting through a variety of
alternatives, we settle on the idea of a sonic porch: nestled under the cantilevered glass living room,
this outdoor room channels and amplifies outdoor environmental sounds.
After producing a full-set of Design Development drawings documenting this concept we
nevertheless are plagued by some of the following doubts:
1. Contrary to our expectation that acoustic principles will yield innovative forms, the project
   resembles our other domestic projects not governed by sonic principles.
2. Our lack of acoustic expertise leaves us unequipped to test the viability of our ideas: we need to
   collaborate with a consultant well versed in acoustics.
3. Composed of two elements — veiled acoustic tower and cantilevered glass room — our design
   risks reinforcing rather than blurring the boundaries between sight and sound.
We decide to abandon the scheme in favor of an alternate solution.
Boston Society of Architects Design Research Grants, 2004                                          Page 1
www.architects.org/grants
STAGE 2: HORN
If seeing and hearing are interdependent senses, how to design a house that erases distinctions
between eye and ear. Our second design proposal literally conflates both sense organs: we morph
an orb-like eye volume that recalls an eye with an ear shaped form that funnels environmental
sounds from the exterior and distributes them throughout the house’s interior.
Subsequently, inspired by the form of sea shells, we revise the diagram so that the audio “horn”
and building envelope form one seamless volume. An acoustic liner doubles as upholstery; it both
absorbs sound and provides a resilient surface to accommodate the human body.
We review this new scheme with Ben Rubin, a Yale colleague and a renown sound/media artist.
Ben’s cites the work of an eccentric 16th century engraver who produced sonic architectural
fantasies as a possible precedent. Further discussion with Ben raises some of the following issues:
•   Natural vs. Synthetic: Ordinary aural environments already mix noises generated by both natural
    and artificial means. Rather than just focus on sounds produced by nature, shouldn’t our project
    also harvest inorganic noise?
•   Domestic Programs: Can the notion of audio/visual transparency not only allow occupants to
    acoustically contemplate nature but also respond to everyday domestic programmatic needs?
The outcome of these discussions results in our final proposal, “Hearways.”


STAGE 3: HEARWAYS
“Hearways,” a collaboration between Joel Sanders / JSA and Ben Rubin / EAR Studio, builds upon
JSA’s, KVL’s and EAR Studio’s shared interest in architecture, technology and the human senses,
to create a project that pursues the tectonic implications of sound. Architecture rarely achieves a
condition that we take for granted in media: the integration of sound and image. In his book “Audio-
vision,” Michael Chion discusses the interdependent relationship between soundtrack and image;
the spectator privileges the filmic image, oblivious to the crucial role that synchronized sounds plays
in making sense of images seen within the virtual window of the cinema or television screen. If
architects, like filmmakers, also capture views within isolated frames, they generally organize space
according to visual principals, overlooking the crucial role sound plays in organizing our experience.
Rejecting established hierarchies, our domestic project will put sound and vision on equal footing.
Taking the structure of media as a point of departure, would it be possible to devise a home that
facilitates the kind of close eye/ear coordination commonplace in film and media? We propose
devising a dwelling that rethinks and extends the modernist notion of visual transparency afforded
by the ubiquitous glass window to include aural transparency as well. Our design will cohesively
incorporate state-of-the-art technologies to create an acoustically sophisticated home that
constructs and frames audiovisual scenes, both inside and outside the house, enabling occupants to
transcend spatial boundaries, making locations near and far both visible and audible.
We propose a house organized around a series of “hearways,” audiovisual axes that connect interior
domestic programs (kitchen, living, study, bedroom) with a series of exterior sites (entry path,
studio, birdhouse, swimming pool) that are each framed by a strategically placed aperture. Crossing,
standing, or moving along the “hearway” allows an occupant both to hear as well as see the framed
view. For example, in the study, a hearway framing a bird feeder carries the sight and sound of
birds to anyone along its path. These “hearways” extend beyond the walls of the house, allowing
two-way communication when desired; for instance, a “hearway” oriented towards the entry path
(framed by the kitchen window) enables an occupant to see and speak with an approaching visitor.


Boston Society of Architects Design Research Grants, 2004                                       Page 2
www.architects.org/grants
APPLIED TECHNOLOGY
These audible links are accomplished using available technologies that include newly-developed
ultra-focused speaker systems (Audio Spotlight, Hypersonic Sound, parabolic speakers, surface-
contact transducer speakers), as well as a combination of microphone techniques (PZM, parabolic
reflector, traditional electric condenser) to create the seamless linking of interior and exterior spaces.
Solar-powered radio-frequency transmitters would allow for the permanent installation of remote
microphones at exterior sites such as the birdhouse or the swimming pool. We would develop digital
signal processing and application software to provide adaptive noise-gating and optional processing
of sound, allowing either the direct transmission of “natural” sounds or their transformation into an
imaginary soundscape derived in real-time from actual environmental sounds. In addition to using
electronics to capture and transmit sound, we will also investigate the tectonic implications of
natural acoustic principles, exploring ways to generate compelling spaces whose form and materials
are derived from their acoustic and well as visual properties.


PROJECT STATUS
Building on the research conducted under the auspices of the BSA Research Grant, JSA, KVL and
Ear Studio are currently seeking funding that will enable them to develop the Hearways project. Our
goal is to make architectural representations that describe the house as an audio/visual instrument
(plans, sections, model). In addition, we hope to demonstrate the dynamics of our concept by
making an animated simulation with a 5.1 surround sound and if funds allow, a full-scale mock-up
of a “hearway” that will make real the experience of integrating sound and image.




Boston Society of Architects Design Research Grants, 2004                                          Page 3
www.architects.org/grants
Sonic Space
Joel Sanders Architect (with Karen Van Lengen and Ben Rubin)


ADDENDUM 01
HEARWAYS
“Hearways,” a collaboration between Joel Sanders / JSA, Karen Van Lengen / KVL and Ben Rubin
/ EAR Studio, builds upon shared interests in architecture, technology and the human senses, to
create a project that pursues the tectonic implications of sound. Architecture rarely achieves a
condition that we take for granted in media: the integration of sound and image. In his book “Audio-
vision,” Michael Chion discusses the interdependent relationship between soundtrack and image;
the spectator privileges the filmic image, oblivious to the crucial role that synchronized sounds plays
in making sense of images seen within the virtual window of the cinema or television screen. If
architects, like filmmakers, also capture views within isolated frames, they generally organize space
according to visual principals, overlooking the crucial role sound plays in organizing our experience.
Rejecting established hierarchies, our domestic project will put sound and vision on equal footing.
Taking the structure of media as a point of departure, would it be possible to devise a home
that facilitates the kind of close eye/ear coordination commonplace in film and media? Hearways
proposes devising a dwelling that rethinks and extends the modernist notion of visual transparency
afforded by the ubiquitous glass window to include aural transparency as well. Our design
cohesively incorporates state-of-the-art technologies to create an acoustically sophisticated
home that constructs and frames audiovisual scenes, both inside and outside the house, enabling
occupants to transcend spatial boundaries, making locations near and far both visible and audible.
Our project is organized around a series of “hearways,” audiovisual axes that connect interior
domestic programs (kitchen, living, study, bedroom) with a series of exterior sites (entry path,
studio, birdhouse, swimming pool) that are each framed by a strategically placed aperture. Crossing,
standing, or moving along the “hearway” allows an occupant both to hear as well as see the framed
view. For example, in the study, a hearway framing a bird feeder carries the sight and sound of
birds to anyone along its path. These “hearways” extend beyond the walls of the house, allowing
two-way communication when desired; for instance, a “hearway” oriented towards the entry path
(framed by the kitchen window) enables an occupant to see and speak with an approaching visitor.


Applied Technology
These audible links are accomplished using available technologies that include newly-developed
ultra-focused speaker systems (Audio Spotlight, Hypersonic Sound, parabolic speakers, surface-
contact transducer speakers), as well as a combination of microphone techniques (PZM, parabolic
reflector, traditional electric condenser) to create the seamless linking of interior and exterior spaces.
Solar-powered radio-frequency transmitters would allow for the permanent installation of remote
microphones at exterior sites such as the birdhouse or the swimming pool. We would develop digital
signal processing and application software to provide adaptive noise-gating and optional processing
of sound, allowing either the direct transmission of “natural” sounds or their transformation into an
imaginary soundscape derived in real-time from actual environmental sounds. In addition to using
electronics to capture and transmit sound, we will also investigate the tectonic implications of
natural acoustic principles, exploring ways to generate compelling spaces whose form and materials
are derived from their acoustic and well as visual properties.


Boston Society of Architects Design Research Grants, 2004                                          Page 4
www.architects.org/grants
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www.architects.org/grants
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www.architects.org/grants
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www.architects.org/grants
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www.architects.org/grants
Boston Society of Architects Design Research Grants, 2004   Page 9
www.architects.org/grants
Sonic Space
Joel Sanders Architect (with Karen Van Lengen and Ben Rubin)


ADDEDUM 02
CONTACT INFORMATION
Joel Sanders
Yale University
515 Canal Street
New York NY 10013
212-431-8751
jsandersarch@earthlink.net




Boston Society of Architects Design Research Grants, 2004      Page 10
www.architects.org/grants

				
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