Sound and Space: An Architect’s Investigation by Nicholas Murray

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Abstract

Despite our visual predilection (the reverse is the case for some cultures), our aural experiences form a significant aspect of our spatial experiences and our apprehension of the world. Yet with the exception of high performance listening environments, our aural experiences of contemporary architecture are often a mere artefact of a myriad of other design decisions, usually programmatic or visual. Architectural projects that we might describe as having a specifically aural trajectory are typically responding to programmatic impulses that drive such tendencies. Such is the case, for example, in concert halls, radio stations and recording studios.

When sound is accounted for in relation to architecture its depiction is typically limited to quantifiable acoustic performance, not spatial potential. With the exclusion of acoustics the major critical theory for sound and sonic comprehension resides in practices adjacent to architecture, such as sound art, soundscape studies, music and psycho-acoustics.

Sound and Space: An Architect’s Investigation is an account of the design of a sequence of auditory spatial projects that research the potential for acoustics to play an enabling role in the design of space. The projects demonstrate the enormous promise in applying an architectural spatial sensibility to designing space with sound. The research demonstrates how sound can define space in a manner that is similar to the way an architect uses form and material to define space. The account of the design methodologies is intended to enable the works to be accessed as precedent projects for others wanting to design space with sound, and in doing so, contributes to the develop of the embryonic domain within which these works are located.

The final project, the design of an acoustic and electro-acoustic proposition for the academic spaces of the RMIT University Swanston and A’Beckett Academic Building, represents an enabling proposal for designing sound with space and has significant architectural outcomes. These outcomes include an auditory solution to the problem of designing open-plan environments. The design demonstrates the potential for flexible academic spaces that resist the orthodoxy for generic, partitioned pedagogical environments. The execution of the project demonstrates both how sound can define space, and be an enabling architectural strategy. A major contribution to the research is in the form of the fully realised prototypes that demonstrate the acoustic and electro-acoustic propositions.

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