Author: Thomas Tsang
Sound may be invisible, but it is no less an architectural material than wood, glass, concrete or light. It is shaped and contained by design. By the same token, sound describes an environment—be it an open space, enclosed area or dedicated building. To help our students and the community at large become aware of the limited dialogue on the subject of sound and space, Sounding Architecture critically and creatively examines the liminal space where architecture, sound, and music overlap.
Presently, sound is rarely considered in design practice except for concert halls or lecture rooms (this is the domain of sound engineers or acousticians). Anyone who has heard a piece of music in a space can learn to be sensitive to the fact that the architecture is a contributing factor to the acoustics and, therefore, the sonic fabric of the music as it unfolds in a space. This is fine, but it does not address the fact that the built environment is ostensibly an instrument under all sonic conditions—anywhere, anytime.
Hong Kong also inspired us to revisit Cage’s work critically. The extreme forms which the built environment takes here in Hong Kong compels us to rethink of architecture as shaping the soundscape in a dramatic, even harmful way. Think of the density of the urban grid, the tunnels of sound that run through the city, or the pervasiveness of construction sites. These characteristics of the city determine its soundscape and require new forms of investigation informed by the expertise of musicians and sound experts as well as new types of architectural practice to counter. In building the basis for such a practice, the aims to not only sensitise the audience to the mutual implication of sound and the built environment, but also offers new ideas to professionals and policymakers as they address the question of a “sound” built environment.