October 1, 2012

Design You Can’t See: Arup’s Sound Portal

Far from a newcomer in auditory visuals,


has been innovating with sound since 1946 and has worked on major commissions in the field such as the

Sydney Opera House

and the aquatics center for the

Beijing Olympics

. Last year, Ben Evans of the

London Design Festival

approached them to build something for Trafalgar Square.


Be Open Sound Portal

was a black EPDM rubber pavilion comprised of segments of concentric circles. It referenced Stanley Kubrick’s monolith from

2001: A Space Odyssey

in its external inscrutability. “We developed an envelope that would mask a lot of the chaotic noise and bustle of Trafalgar Square,” says Phillips, “to provide a cocoon which is intriguing and an interior space that is ideal for experiencing the ambisonic sound pieces.”

Arup collaborated with the arts organization

Sound and Music

to commission these sound pieces, settling on five international artists, including Tom Jenkinson, better known as famed electronica producer


, and Ivan Pavlov, the experimental sound artist who records and performs as



“The sound pieces were played through 9 individual channels,” Phillips continues. “By sitting on the circular bench in the centre of the sound portal, listeners experienced a sweet spot, where the different elements of the sound pieces moved and converged. Two sub woofers housed in the central bench allowed listeners to feel the lower frequency sounds through the seat of their pants!”

The pavilion will soon take up residence next to the

Tate Britain

, giving students at

Chelsea College of Art

the chance to design sound environments in an immersive, unique structure.


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