ARC 606 LAB-MC - Silence

Graphic of sound wave.

Juhani Pallasmaa theorized that while our experience of the world is formulated by a combination of five senses (the faculties of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch), much architecture is produced under consideration of only one – sight.  The suppression of the other sensory realms has led to an impoverishment of the spatial perception of our physical environment.  

To that end, this studio will investigate the faculties of hearing, with a particular focus on the spatial dimensions of sound – the sensation produced by stimulation of the organs of hearing by vibrations transmitted through the air.  A normal conversation has a volume of 60 decibels, a room in which one sleeps, around 30 decibels.  What if we were to construct a sound-proof space where the decibel level would approach sub-zero levels?  What would it feel like to experience a space of total silence and how would this fundamental change our perception of space?


Christopher Romano is a research assistant professor within the Department of Architecture's Material Culture Research Group. His research and teaching explores the relationship between design, construction and the culture of building by leveraging regional manufacturing and material processes.

To explore this question, the studio will work in direct collaboration with Maya Dunietz, an Israeli composer, performer, and sound artist on the design and fabrication of an anechoic chamber – an insulated, echo-free, acoustic environment designed to experience total silence. These chambers are the quietest places on Earth and the occupant becomes the only source of sound which often creates a claustrophobic and intimidating experience.  Most occupants can tolerate this sensation for only a few minutes (we will subject ourselves to this at the Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, Minnesota).  Furthermore, John Cage (American Composer, b.1912 – d.1992) famously visited an anechoic chamber and heard the singing of his nervous system and the pumping of his own blood.  It forever changed his understanding of space, silence, and music.

Building on the this acoustic context, the studio will address the anechoic chamber as a site of multi-sensory architectural research – drawing attention to our hearing capabilities, the spatial dimensions of hearing, the phenomenology of listening, and how we are situated and immersed in the world through sound.  This studio is sponsored by the UB Art Galleries and will culminate as a traveling exhibition that will begin at the Center for the Arts in Buffalo, NY and culminate at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in Omaha, NE.