One of the reasons I love architecture is that it is not just something that you look at. It serves a specific function, yes. But whatever its function, it is experienced on many different sensory levels. You are immersed within it and therefore become a part of it. Your experience in it is part of its raison d’être.
Whenever I visit a building two things always strike me as soon as I walk into it: the light and its sounds. Small older churches often are dark and muffled. I think of the fifth century church of Santa Sabina in Rome, which is near where I lived when I studied there in college. It is quiet, calm, and contemplative. But buildings like the Pantheon are totally different. It is light and soaring, unexpectedly so. It’s contemplative too, but in a majestic and energetic way. The sounds are different too. There are more sounds bouncing around the airy space, there is more movement of sound–more going on. The sound of a building is something you don’t often think about, but it plays a key role in helping to define your experience of a building.
Excitingly, the Museum of the City of New York has opened an installation this week that provides that elusive experience for visitors to the museum. Four New York City monuments–Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center, the main reading room of the New York Public Library, and the Guggenheim Museum–are presented aurally. Close your eyes, and you can really get a sense for where these sounds are taking place. The space starts to construct itself for you. This is a wonderful convergence of museums and architecture. If only we had access to recordings like these for every historical monument!