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SONAR INSTALLATION: Do the sounds of the street have shape?

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This installation was conceived and built during the 1st Parametric Design Workshop at Universidade Católica de Pernambuco (UNICAP), Brazil, a pioneer initiative in the State, which focused on applying Grasshopper and Rhinoceros softwares as a design tool. For six days, a group of 25 architecture students and young architects, under the guidance of professors Victor Sardenberg, Ana Luisa Rolim and Robson Canuto da Silva, gathered to discuss theoretical aspects of and practice parametric design, aiming to build temporary low-budget installations at UNICAP campus. The Sonar was one of these installations.

As opposed to typical campuses in Brazil, mostly designed under modern architecture principles that privilege the maximization of open spaces, the campus at UNICAP fits into traditional urban blocks in the heart of the city of Recife - a major capital in the Northeast of the country -, presenting both the pilotis typology, as well as proto-modern buildings. In this urban context the Rua do Lazer (“Leisure Street”) is the main integration axis that connects two of the blocks in the Campus, a lively and democratic space to where collective social gatherings, daily conversations and meals converge.

The proposal’s main idea is to capture the lively relationships that take place on “Leisure Street”, as these are expressed through the noise they generate, which we perceived as the moving sound of the street. As different types of sound converge to this space, they generate a heterogeneous profile of intensity and frequencies along the street. We recorded 15 seconds of the sound at each 15 meters of the street, totalizing twelve recordings, later condensed into one single recording. We then transferred this recording to Processing software, through which the recorded sound was conveyed into 3-dimensional data, taking the shape of something similar to a cloud of points in virtual space. This was the first formal expression of the digital shape of the sound we had recorded in the street.

The spatial data obtained through Processing was carried into Grasshopper. We selected the central portion of the cloud due to its complexity, discarding the more acute and grave sounds, which formed the flatter, peripheral section of the cloud. This central portion was then converted into a NURBS surface in Grasshopper. We adjusted the scale of the surface proportionally to that of the 1st floor corridor of the Architecture School building, located at Block D in the campus. Once the scale was resolved, we flipped the surface upside down, so that the final shape would allow for a more direct interaction with the passer-by. To facilitate construction in a timely manner – approximately two days - the final surface was fragmented into linear segments, as to allow the shape to express the density of the sound while maintaining the curvilinear profile as close as possible to that of the original recording.

In order to meet construction low budget and time constraints – a 5-day workshop with 2 days dedicated to construction - the tectonics of the installation consisted of simple, easily available materials with high visual impact aesthetics. We used 4mm yellow nylon cords connected to metal hooks at one end. Approximately four thousand pieces of cords were cut to match dimensions provided by Grasshopper. These were numbered and organized on flat surfaces accordingly, and then, hung by hand on a perforated plastic screen attached with zip ties to existing metal tracks on the corridor ceiling and walls. The tips of the cords were hand painted in red color to emphasize the expression of the shape of the sound.

The Sonar installation, located at a chaotic corridor overloaded with metal tracks, graduation plaques and various types of doors, helps neutralize these elements, and, more importantly, bring the vivid atmosphere of the street into the building, punctuated by boring narrow corridors. Perhaps that is why the installation has been provoking both estrangement and interaction among students and faculty, who have been constantly staring at or touching the structure in search of an unusually fun tactile experience.

Project design team: Ana Rolim, Diego Pessoa, Erica Costa, Rafaela Teixeira, Robson Canuto and Victor Sardenberg

Sounds of a street on campus are converted into shape and brought into the architecture school building

Street where sounds were captured

View from "Leisure Street", a lively spot where all campus users interact

Project phases

The sounds captured on Leisure Street were conveyed into 3-dimensional data: A cloud of points in virtual space

Construction process

Sonar helps neutralize the chaotic collage of elements in the corridor and, more importantly, bring the vivid atmosphere of the street into the building,

View from hallway adjacent to corridor

Sonar provoked both estrangement and interaction among students and faculty, who were attracted by the fun tactile experience it offered

Nylon cord pieces were hung on a perforated screen attached with zip ties to metal tracks on ceiling and walls

Approximately 4,000 pieces of nylon cords were cut to match dimensions provided by software

Sonar sculptural effect

The tips of the cords were hand painted in red color to emphasize the expression of the shape of the sound

 by Ana Rolim.