Located in Trafalgar Square in London, the BE OPEN Sound Portal focuses on an experience that would be all about the sound. Designed by Arup, they thought it would be great if people could really concentrate on sound in Trafalgar Square, which would take people away form hustle and bustle into a space where they can concentrate and immerse themselves in sound. The original idea was that they would be able to take people away from London to another place, to hear the sound of a melting glacier or an acoustic model of the big bang. The plan is effectively two concentric circles: the inner circle for the sound and the outer circle forms the entrances. Both pieces mask the background noise. They are shells to shield the noise. More images and architects’ description after the break.
The technology we used in the piece is known as ambisonic sound. You have a spherical array of loudspeakers, enabling you to immerse the listener in sound because the sound pieces are played through 9 individual speaker channels. Sounds coming from different directions are treated equally unlike even the most sophisticated surround which assumes the main sound is experience from the front.
Arup owns an ambisonic array so that if you are architect and you are designing a concert hall, or you’ve got an urban planning issue relating to sound, you can take your 3D CAD model before it’s been built and you can listen to what a symphony is going to sound like in this space by looking at the computer model. You can change the material surfaces of your virtual concert hall and get the right reverberation time, echo, and absorption. The architect or the client can tune their concert hall before they’ve even commissioned it.
Arup approached by Ben Evans [director of London Design Festival] in 2011 when he asked us to conceive an installation utilizing sound for Trafalgar Square. That was the chat – some kind of installation about sound. After discussion about what we were doing to do in this very noisy chaotic place – I came up with a number of ideas – the sound portal was deemed the best solution. Be Open loved it because it fitted the idea of innovation so once sponsorships was secured set up a team to design it. Myself Structural Engineer Alice Blair, lighting Pavlina Akritas, Acoustic consultant Ned Crowe. Sound and Music also commissioned 5 artists to develop sound – they’re up and coming but they jumped at the chance as did we because it’s a great opportunity.
The piece had to be all about sound so we wanted an experience that would be all about the sound. We had this idea of using this technology from our own Soundlab which is where we have an ambisonic array in our office. We thought you can simulate a market in India and take yourself away. Provide Londoners with something thaty they don’t hear. That was the idea and think the piece by [sound artist and producer] Jana Winderen’s will be a bit like that but other artists have gone in different directions.
create? The key influence at first was Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey but then we had other ideas. You could design something that looked the way things sounded but in the end we did achieve reference to Kubrick’s film. What’s nice about the BE OPEN Sound Portal is that its alive. The Soundlab is a great tool for us but it is a very dead space. You can listen to what you need to but what the BE OPEN Sound Portal does is to make something that’s more interesting. You don’t know what’s going on from the outside. You’ve got a sense of anticipation. It’s anonymous and black, then you enter and suddenly you are in an open space. You can listen and look up and daydream. It was designed to be quite intimidating from the outside and the opposite inside.
Location: Trafalgar Square, London, England
Design Team: Simon Philips, Product Designer; Structural Engineer, Alice Blair; lighting Pavlina Akritas; Acoustic Consultant Ned Crowe
Project Area: 50 sq m
Project Year: 2012