IF YOU CAN’T FIX IT, FEATURE IT.
A few years ago, I gave a keynote speech to the annual convention of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (the professional folks who design and shape the outdoor space between buildings).
One thing that has always puzzled me (and I said as much to the audience) is why so little attention is paid to the sound of public spaces. The acoustics of Winston Churchill Square, for instance, in the heart of Edmonton’s downtown core are particularly troublesome.
And while it may look more interesting — there have been several retrofits and extensive remodeling of the aesthetics of the place — to my ear, the audio image of the Square is still uninviting; passersby tend not to linger long unless, of course, there is a special event that keeps them there.
“The most interesting thing,” I said, about the spot “is how the carillon bells echo and bounce off buildings.”
And then I got an idea.
A prior self-directed residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts — an investigation of 3D ‘binaural’ audio — taught me that you don’t have to put up with ugly sound in the environment; it’s possible to offset the overall pitch by adding frequencies to harmonize with an offensive soundscape (more about this research farther along in the blog).
I had it in mind that the bell tower beside Edmonton’s city hall was perhaps useful in ways that were never imagined for Churchill Square.
The same organization I spoke to offered a remarkable opportunity with a Landscape Architecture Canada Foundation grant to “push beyond the boundaries of everyday practice,” with particular attention to “exploring new design theories” and out of the ordinary “speculations,” which could lead to advances in the art of landscape architecture.
My proposal for ‘seed money’ was accepted: To remediate the unpleasant sound of a large public square in the downtown of a major Canadian city by creating the conditions for acoustic standing waves, noise-cancellation effects, as well as strategically add sounds from a carillon to create a ‘harmony of the square’.
That’s how it began. This website is my progress report.