Q&A: Sound Design For Architecture

Building Sonic Experiences

Can we experience a building completely if we are not able to hear it? Established in 2010 by sound designer, composer and musician Florian R Richter, Sound Design For Architecture works with architects and developers around the world to add a significant sensory experience to the spaces they create through sound design. Digital and naturally produced sounds are integrated in a composition of pure sound based on the same techniques used for musical composition. Richter characterizes the soundscapes as ‘almost imperceptible, neither disturbing nor dominant, the interaction between silence and environment’.

In the past three years the Amsterdam-based studio has created sound concepts for the entrance of the Louvre in Paris, the Montreal Metro and many other international venues. Their most recent project, however, is closer to home in the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Technology, Delft. From Monday, March 4, you will hear soundscapes representing three different locations at BK City, the lab of modern architecture.

How was the idea of Sound Design For Architecture born?
Florian R Richter: In 2010 I was reading Joachim-Ernst Berendt’s The Third Ear, a book about our acoustic awareness. At the same time I learned a lot about this subject on a neurological level. I started composing soundscapes for Art Exhibitions. I have always been fascinated by modern architecture. The perception of architecture is visual, but the human system of awareness is much more complex: our auditory capacity is a very important part of our senses, of our orientation. Having all these factors in mind, the idea came up to complete the perception of architecture by involving our sonic awareness; to produce soundscapes for public spaces like foyers, waiting rooms, stairways, halls, lobbies, etc.

You write that one of the objectives of your work is ‘to support the architects' concept, to intensify the awareness of his creation.’ How does sound strengthen architecture?
F.R.: Our concept is not to create art but functional sound design. In a perfect situation, to work closely together with the architect, the planer and the owner; to find out what is their vision, their concept, what is the function of the space or the building and then to integrate these parameters into our sound concept. So we can support the concept and at the same time intensify the perception: we don’t only see space, we can hear it too. Sound touches us directly deep inside without being filtered by our rational min. As a composer and musician, for me this has always been the miracle of music. It is this phenomena, this power we use now in Sound Design For Architecture.

What was the most difficult architectural concept to 'make audible'?
F.R.: Up to now all projects have been a challenge, they offer new adventures and ask for unique approaches. For instance, our most recent project for Bk City TU Delft; last year the project for the Amsterdam School of the Arts or our concepts for Amsterdam’s Public Library and Conservatory.

Tell us about BK City...
F.R.: BK-city is the ‘lab of architecture’, it is one of the most important institutions in Europe where architecture is created. This was for us the inspiration to make parts of this building audible.
We created soundscapes for three different locations: the street and two staircases. The street is hectic, there is movement, businesses and support facilities. We adapted to these factors so that the street’s soundscape plays with these conditions. On the other hand, for the staircases we made the space, the materials and the colours audible.

What are people’s reactions to your work?
F.R.: We have very positive reactions. It’s a new idea, it’s a new approach to architecture which offers a lot of fresh qualities, support and functions to spaces. As far as I know, Sound Design For Architecture is the only company which offers this innovation in architecture. We have been invited to give university lectures and to get involved in neurological research. Until now the active exploration of sonic awareness didn’t exist in this field. When we talk to architects about the subject we get very surprised reactions: ‘we never thought about these possibilities to complete our designs.’

After BK City, what are your plans?
F.R.: We are busy with new projects in the Netherlands and Germany and at the same time we are building up our network with international architectural offices. We are always looking for challenging adventures in architecture.

Images Courtesy of Sound Design For Architecture.

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