Knox Bhavan addressed the question of acoustic representation by considering a live project in the office – the conversion of a disused Victorian church in Peckham, south London, into a Buddhist centre. The designers asked their client, Guang Kuan, what characteristics he sought in the destination space represented by a circular prayer hall, and he replied ‘silence’. Discussing the quality of silence, the monk recited a Chinese poem, in which it is represented by motionless trees.
Graphic language, and interview with Guang Kuan
Further exploring the idea of visual metaphors for sound and silence, the team developed a graphic language that could be applied to plans and sections, and represent that which can’t be seen – including subjective responses to the ‘hardness’ or ‘texture’ of sound.
The team made an audio recording of a journey through the existing space, from the front door that opens off a busy street and into the hall with its variety of hard, reflective surfaces, and mapped this on plans using the graphic language.
The mapping emphasised how the acoustic experience of a space changes and unfolds as one moves through it. Extracting the graphic symbols from the plan, they could be represented as overlapping events along a continuum, rather like musical notation.
Audio and visual descriptions of a journey through the existing space
This process suggested that a reversal might become possible – to write a soundscape first that could then inform the design, decoding the notation into architectural elements, or thresholds, that can affect the sound space. The team produced both audio and visual descriptions of a journey through the proposed meditation centre, from the doorway, via a bustling cafe to the meditation room, where the embracing silence is broken only by the chiming of a bell.
Proposed soundscape as audio file and on plan
Panellist Laura Allen found the proposed cartographic approach “very powerful”, particularly as it offered a means to formalise sound in terms of textures and shapes. Robin Snell concurred, fascinated by the analysis and its translation into a live project, and seeing the opportunity to draw on intuitive response to sound rather than aiming to fulfil solely technical parameters. Ben Burgess too saw the potential to ‘reverse engineer’ in projects, embedding an acoustic brief in a project from the outset.