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Spoken Theatre and Architectural Acoustics around 1800

Viktoria Tkaczyk

April 18, 2013, 15:30-17:00
Universiteitstheater, Nieuwe Doelenstraat 16, zaal 3.01

Generally, the foundation of the discipline of architectural acoustics is attributed to the physicist Wallace Clement Sabine, who developed around 1900 the formula for reverberation time, and with it the possibility of making calculated prognoses about the acoustic potential of a particular design. If we shift, however, the perspective from the history of this discipline to the history of architectural knowledge and praxis it becomes apparent that the topos of ‘good sound’ had already entered the discourse much earlier. In my presentation, I will trace the Europe-wide architectural discussion on the behaviour of sound in enclosed spaces between 1760 and 1830. Special emphasis will be put on the acoustics of theatre auditoria. It will be shown that the period of investigation is marked by a rising interest in theatre sound, which is linked to the emergence of a bourgeois theatre culture and the socio-political importance of the spoken word. Subsequently, the architects’ search for new methods of research on sound propagation in enclosed spaces prompted a profound rethinking of the ‘mediality’ of architectural buildings, which, in turn, paved the way for the academic establishment of architectural acoustics in the early 20th century.