Skip to main content

'Science as Applied to Building' : Science, Construction, and Architectural Acoustics (1914-1954)

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SAAB ('Science as Applied to Building' : Science, Construction, and Architectural Acoustics (1914-1954))

Reporting period: 2017-07-01 to 2018-06-30

The opening decades of the twentieth century bore witness to significant developments in building science and applied acoustic research within the field of architecture. Over the course of the succeeding decades, the conceptual basis of the early work, rooted in empirical observation and applied analysis, was consolidated in the standardisation of specific design criteria through large-scale architectural and scientific studies. As the science and its application evolved, an architectural legacy of benchmarks in the 'state of the art' was created. Many of the earlier developments in acoustical science were expressed in the construction of experimental housing and a number of ecclesiastic and civic buildings across Britain and Ireland. This project examines that legacy and focuses on the twentieth-century emergence of architectural acoustics as a branch of modern building science in Britain and its practical application in construction. Studies relating to the history of acoustic design in Britain have largely centred upon post-war auditoria. Little attention has been paid to the progress that preceded this era. The emergence and consolidation of architectural acoustics as a modern building science in early twentieth-century Britain and the underlying research links with the US are significant facets of architectural and construction history that to date, have remained unexplored.

This research project addresses gaps in knowledge related to the history, development and application of technology in buildings. Early twentieth-century scientific work in architectural acoustics witnessed rapid development. One complaint of a building scientist in the 1940s was that experimental work in noise reduction for domestic architecture was advancing faster than could be documented. A substantial record of scientific progress remains in archives, unpublished and unrecognised. No complete inventory of scientific developments in twentieth-century building acoustics has ever been made. By addressing this gap in the joint histories of science and construction, a fuller understanding of developmental methods in acoustics and sound insulation will be amassed, contextualised, and disseminated, placing an under-explored aspect of technological and architectural development within the social and cultural context of the early twentieth-century.

The overall research objective of this Fellowship is to address a lacuna in the histories of science and architecture by documenting a developmental stage in the history of acoustics that, to date, has been neglected. The coincident training objective is to mature the researcher’s academic development through cross-disciplinary mobility and advanced training, and through the management and implementation of a detailed and interdisciplinary research project.

One of the most significant conclusions to have emerged from the research has been the demonstrable origins of scientific procedures in musical experimentation. This has been paralleled by investigation of the translation of scientific developments into architectural form.
This report covers the entirety of the project, completed over the course of 36 months in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University and in the School of Engineering at Trinity College Dublin.

Throughout the entirety of the project, the emergent findings were contextualised and disseminated in written outputs and through public speaking.The research has been presented internally and externally at conferences, symposia, public lectures, and to different disciplines: architecture, construction history, history of science, environmental history, acoustics and music. Further dissemination has continued since completion of the project.

During the project, critical engagement with peers and mentors from different disciplines has been invaluable in interrogating and reframing the research questions and in developing and maturing the written outputs of the work. Dissemination and exploitation of the results have included both popular science writing and peer-reviewed publications. The primary output of the project is the preparation of a manuscript for a monograph. As the result of new and unexpected findings to have emerged from archive work and interviews during the course of this Fellowship, the book manuscript has been expanded from its original anticipated scope. A proposal for the book is presently under review, as is a proposal for an additional work emerging directly from this project. In 2017, work emerging from the project was awarded the Hawksmoor Medal by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain. The writing to have been awarded the Hawksmoor Medal has subsequently been accepted for publication in 'Architectural History'. it is currently in press.

In pursuit of the training objectives implicit in the DoA, discipline-specific skills have been developed through coursework, close mentorship, participation in seminars and colloquia, and guest-lecturing. To further professional development and to maximise dissemination impact, a number of courses focusing on research management, advanced presentation skills and teaching and learning have also been completed. One tangible output of this has been the development of an interdisciplinary course on architectural acoustics designed to link science and technology with arts and humanities. The objective in this regard is to permit the knowledge gained over the course of the Fellowship to be furthered subsequently through mentoring and teaching by the researcher .
Scholarship has been advanced through this research by means of a detailed examination of primary sources and interdisciplinary enquiry. The work has been predicated upon substantial archive work and critical analysis. Public and private archives have been consulted in order to discern and contextualise the particular intellectual configuration and the path of development underpinning architectural acoustics in twentieth-century Britain, and its placement within the global context. As a consequence of new findings, the scope of the book has been expanded and restructured. It is anticipated that this manuscript, when published, will form a significant addition and contribute new perspectives to existing literature in the cognate disciplines.