Sybaritic Soundscapes with Olivia Drave
00:00 / 23:35

SYBARITIC SOUNDSCAPES - description

Sybaritic Sounscapes is a semester-long group project that focused on harnessing urban data, and remapping these findings into an integrated and responsive architectural intervention. The final protostructure acts as a boundary separating the street level of Cowgate and the residential areas above. It detects and responds to rising sound levels by activating a mechanism that inflates the structure to create an acoustic barrier. It is a transformative intervention – it re-envisions and re-interprets hedonism within Cowgate by defining the boundary that separates mass and void, noisy and noiseless, commercial and residential and uniting a common goal, pleasure.

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Tori:

Nikki:

Tori:

Olivia:

Nikki:

Olivia:

Tori:

Olivia:

Nikki:

Olivia:

Nikki:

Olivia:

Tori:

Olivia:

Tori:

Olivia:

Nikki:

Olivia:

Tori:

Olivia:

Tori:

Nikki:

Olivia:

Welcome to The Pitch, a podcast about youth architecture projects around the world. My name is Vitoria Carneiro Zhu.

And I'm Nikki Ivanova. In our episode, we'll explore how each of our guests is changing the world, be it through innovation, sustainability, aestheticism, or just simply creating solutions.

Today, our guest is Olivia! Please introduce yourself.

Hi! Thank you for having me, first of all. My name is Olivia, I'm 21, [and] I'm a RIBA Part 1 graduate from the University of Edinburgh. I'm from Hong Kong, and, I guess, I would also say I'm a graphic designer and illustrator. I'm super interested in parametric design and this project that we're about to talk about is probably one of my favourites ever because it was the first time I think I properly explored algorithmic processes in my work. So, thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about it, guys.

Cool! So, please walk us through your project and, sort of, the primary purpose/function of the design and your motivation behind it, and some of the key ideas you integrated.

So, Sybaritic Soundscapes— it's just the name of the project— was a third-year project that I did with two other group members. And I'm just going to shout them out quickly: Ilia Anisimov and Aitalina Semenova; thank you, guys. It was all about creating an intervention for pleasure, if you may, within the nightlife district of Cowgate, in Edinburgh. And there were two parts to the project. The first part asked us to go out and choose an aspect of the urban realm that we could physically measure and map, and, I guess, what that means is: what are the dynamics of our environment that we can quantify and as a result turn into data? And we, as a group, we chose sound. Some of the other groups things like light and temperature, and there was just a whole array of things people chose to focus on.

The second part challenged us to use this data to inform an architectural intervention and response, and we wanted to sense the city and turn that into a livestream of information that can then be analysed and then subsequently used to create an architectural response. The studio brief itself emphasized that our architecture should enhance urban leisure and hedonism, and act as a vehical for social interaction. So, that part we actually didn't get to choose ourselves. So, by marrying these two ideas: sound and hedonism, we instantly thought: we're going to focus on nightlife; we're going to do bars and clubs, and it was pretty much a eureka moment from then on. So, yeah, what's next?

So, just like that, we found the site of our intervention: Cowgate Street, the most popular nightlife district in Edinburgh. The next step was, then, to figure out: how in the world are we going to pick up the sound data? And the answer was we had to programme our own sound-sensing device using Arduino Uno, and I think I sent you some reference images of things that we did [above], and the components that we used, how we put that together... and Arduino is, kind of, just, like, a micro-controller that you use to create simple electronics, and stuff. So, we programmed two different sound sensors to log sound data onto an SD card, and, with that, it would pick up volume readings with the buttons that we also programmed. So, essentially, you hit the button once and it starts recording, and then you hit it again to stop. And then, with that, we took a field trip to all the bars and pubs— a "field trip"— all across Cowgate and we recorded the fluctuations in sound levels and sound level intensity within a specific timeframe. And it did look a little sus[picious] because we were wearing this, like— we strapped this device on our bodies, and we were like this is going to look so sus[picious], so we had to wear clothes over it, and stuff, but, in the end, it was fine. No one caught us.

 

So, then, we compared all of the sound data from all the different bars and pubs, and we created a sound map of the loudest areas on the street. And this initial sound map basically dictated and helped to inform the undulations of our structure. So, the sound chimneys that you see on all of our drawings [above], the things—the parts of the structure that reach up to the sky, those appear in areas that are the loudest, and so isolate these areas to create better moments of acoustic insulation. And then, when the structure dips down to the street, those areas represent places that weren't as loud, but were still evidently quite popular. So, we decided to harness those spaces and transform them into pockets of social activity, if you may. So you can go and you can sit, you can chill, you can socialize, you can smoke, you can drink. It's almost an activator for all these elements of hedonism and it, kind of, really hopes to maximize user enjoyment on the street. Also, the structure is clear, so that the street level doesn't really lose any natural daylight.

 

The inflatable components— or cells, as we like to call them— are made from a transparent mass loaded vinyl barrier material. Very tongue-twistery name: mass loaded vinyl barrier material, but it's also very sound-absorbing. So, the structure responds to the urban field in real time. It's not just designed according to strict parameters; it also changes and reacts to everything that's happening in the moment. There are sound sensors that are actually embedded in the structure, and those pick up spikes in sound levels throughout the evening, and inflate specific clusters of cells according to the sound levels that are going on. So this, in theory, would provide almost an extra layer of sound insulation in between the two layers of material. So the biggest question for us, then, was: how are we supposed to make this complex inflation mechanism work? How are we going to make this— the structure inflate? Where are we going to get the air? How are we going to inform which areas of the structure are going to inflate, and when? And how are we going to do that?

So, we realised that a lot of the bars and pubs on Cowgate— pretty much anywhere in the world, really— they utilize what is called an HVAC system, which is used for ventilation. And what that does is it regulates indoor temperature and it also keeps the building pretty much ventilated by expelling this waste air. So, we took this and we, kind of, ran with it. We figured out by— that by compressing this air, we would have enough pressurized air, or what you would call active air, to feed into the structure for inflation. So, I guess in the most simple terms, the structure would, kind of, hear all the things going on. If the street level reaches a spike volume, that activates a mechanism that allows the HVAC waste air— active air— to be compressed and then come in and inflate those pockets of cells. So it was, kind of, a very out-there idea, but we hoped that it would respond to, kind of, the needs of the street and the people who are trying to enjoy their time there. So, yeah!

I think it's— it's so cool. Every time we, like, we talk to an architecture student it's so cool to think of all the ways that you— as an aspiring architect, you don't know what it means to be creative. And to talk to someone who does these projects because it's so crazy. I mean, here you're visualizing— you're making art out of our senses and not just, you know, what we can already observe, but also, you know, touch and, in this case, sound. I think that's pretty incredible. It's something that you would never think of! When someone says: oh, let's look for creativity or innovation in art and architecture, you're thinking oh, what are some fun lines or shapes that I can make. But sound is so rarely a component of art, and I think it's just so cool that that's what you guys decided to do and then, you know, you ran with it and created such an intricate project. Yeah, and, I mean, okay. In your project description, you talked about 'harnessing urban data'. So, when we relate this back to the real world, what does this mean, and what is the relevancy of controlling urban data in the modern cultural, social, and/or political environment?

Thank you. So, in reference to your question, like I mentioned, we programmed our own sound-sensing device, so that we could pick up and track data that was already prevalent in the environment. The whole premise was: if you understand the environment, and you can kind of identify the subtleties that exist within these pockets of urban life, then you can identify issues and problems and then work to solve them through architectural solutions. So, these data-driven readings are interpreted and then fed back into the physical world. You know, urban data is already being monitored and used to control the function of buildings and societies. We already have smart cities; we already have intelligent buildings all around the world, and these come in the form of things like telecommunication links, devices to control water and energy usage in our homes; we've got CCTV, we've got fire alarms. So data is such an important part and a factor in the functioning of our society, and, you know, most of the time we don't even know— we don't see it happening. So, you know, most of the time when you're working in an office building, for example, thermal comfort is monitored and tweaked so that the workforce maintains its productivity and efficiency levels.

So really, urban data is one of the most important aspects, I think, of architectural design. The thing is that most of these interventions— they are homogenous in a way and kind of reductive, and they create these almost sterile spacial experiences. What I mean by that is the only reason they're implemented is because they aim to minimize resources, first of all, and as a result minimize costs. So that's a capitalist kind of function. We— they don't consider, at all, about our enjoyment alone or the subtleties that exist in behaviour that you and I experience—so, the humanity of it. There really isn't much of that. So, the most important thing that we had to consider as a group was: how do we make a reactive architecture that, first of all, is interesting to look at, and, secondly, isn't hidden away, but actually becomes part of the city infrastructure and tourism? Third, its bottom-up approach— a bottom-up method of responding to the urban condition, and, finally, it utilizes and builds on the systems that are already in place within society. So, it wasn't— we didn't have to tear everything down and start again; it was: these buildings are here and we want to build around that. That was the whole concept for us.

I find it so interesting how you used such a cool piece of technology to collect the data from the site. I think, like, I have never seen that before. And, sort of, thinking not just about what we see, but about, also, noise. I think that's super cool and how you incorporated it in your design. 

Thanks!

And, onto the next question, so you spoke, too, about 'defining the boundary', separating ideas of mass versus void, noise versus noiselessness, and commercial versus residential. How do you think that, by defining the bridge between those conflicting elements, you can unite or contribute to the common goal of pleasure?

That's a great question. The thing that I haven't mentioned about our project yet is— and about Cowgate— is that it's half nightlife district and half residential. You can kind of imagine how annoying that is, and I think that was the most important driver behind making the structure acoustically insulated, like, that was the whole point of incorporating sound in the first place. One of my team members, Ilia, he actually lived in a flat directly above the street, and he would always complain about it being so noisy, and how he couldn't get a good night's sleep. And, you know, there was also a hotel above one of the most popular bars and two or three hostels, I think, if I can remember correctly. So, it's quite a lot of people who are trying to go to bed while the people below them are partying. And, you know, I wouldn't want to be in that situation, where it's, like, one or two o'clock in the morning and all I can hear is people screaming, and stuff like that, you know?

So we actually did a site visit and we analysed the different building heights and points in which the street stopped being a bar and started being residential. And then, we incorporated these findings into the positioning and the form of our structure. So that's why you can kind of see the edges— they're not straight lines; they're a little bit wobbly because they're adhering to the structure's walls as it kind of undulates, and as, you know, the street stops being a bar and then starts being residential— someone's house. So it's designed specifically for those little nuances and changes. And when you're having fun you're not really caring about the people who are living in the flats right above you, and you're at home trying to relax... that can be really frustrating. So we tried to make an intervention that benefitted both parties. You want to keep the residents and the tourists happy, and you also want to keep the partygoers happy, and that was about maximizing enjoyment and hedonism for everyone, really. That was our goal.

Yeah, I can definitely— I mean, I'm sure you can, too— in Hong Kong there are definitely places where we can also hear the nightlife at the same time as we are just trying to live. So, I mean, in that way you can definitely see how what you've done with this project can serve as a template for big cities and very populated places, as a way of contributing to— like you said— the pleasure and the enjoyment of everyone and maximizing that. And then, you know, making it— inflating the project even more and seeing how you can apply it across a whole city, right. And I think it's a super— like, it's one of those projects that you can see, I can see, like, making it's way across the world, because it just has such a foundation that really works and is a problem, I think, for a lot of places around the world.

 

Which kind of leads me to this question that I have, which is obviously more of an opinion, but do you feel that architecture, beyond just this project, needs to respond to a collective or individual need of some kind, or is it sufficient for it to be created in the name of, you know, aestheticism or enjoyment? Or could you even argue that, you know, those are needs, which, in that case, is there anything that isn't a need for us, as humans?

I definitely think that architecture has to respond to a collective need, but I would say that aestheticism and enjoyment are both really human needs that we should be mindful of. I think, personally, our project derived its form directly from function, and thankfully it worked out, but I definitely think that if architecture brings joy, either to an individual or to society or to a community, then it's done its job, in my opinion. And I think one of the most important roles of architecture is to foster social interaction and foster these relationships, and hedonism, pleasure, enjoyment, whatever you want to call it, is at the very middle of that. And these are all avenues in the urban realm that I think are the most interesting to design for, because it's all about enhancing human experiences and enhancing human enjoyment, and not about money; it's not about productivity; it's not about optimizing your resources as a company; it's about people and it's about, you know, everyone's comfort and pleasure, and I think that's what I love.

Yeah, and I think that it's ever more important, I think, in society that we have, as you said, interaction and community, and in a growing age of technology and social media people can feel both more connected and more disconnected. And I think architecture is playing an ever bigger role in ensuring that people are physically together and physically interacting with one another. Yeah, I would agree with you. I think that, you know, there's like a need of aestheticism, community— that's all [a] very important need for all humans, even if we don't realize it. It's not enough to just live pragmatically for the rest of our lives.

 

I completely agree, and that's why I think the Serpentine Pavilion is so popular every year. It's— you know those pavilions, those installations, they're not always going to serve a purpose, but it brings together a community of people who love art and people who love architecture, and fosters that relationship with the environment and people around you. So I think our society— whether or not it serves some kind of pragmatic meaning, I think it's necessary, for sure.

Yeah, I was just curious, did you take inspiration from the Pavilion in London? Have you, like, visited any pavilions over the years and which one would you say is your favourite? 

Which one would I say is my favourite? Oh, god. I don't remember the names of them and who designed them, but I did go one year with my family, and, you know, what's inspiring, I think, is it's beautiful, it's fun, it's playful. We didn't take inspiration from the Pavilion directly. It was more, like... some of the pavilions they use a lot of algorithmic techniques and some of them have— are kind of parametric, in a way. So, we obviously tried to take inspiration from any designs that we felt were kind of conducive to this algorithmic process. So, I don't think I can name one for you right now, but... I'll get back to you on that one.

Yeah, so I definitely agree with you— everything that you've said about, you know, architecture. I mean, I guess some people would argue that because of, you know, climate change and whatever's going on economically, that architecture needs to become much more based in function as opposed to enjoyment. I think that if you're truly an architect that you service the people and what you do— you should just inherently try to incorporate that idea of humanity and human need, aside from, you know, what the government wants you to do. You know, do both together.

Mhm. That's true.

That's all from me!

Alright, thank you so much for coming on The Pitch, Olivia.

Awesome! Thank you so much for having me; it's been a pleasure. So lovely to meet you guys, too.