Overhearing History: Sound as Historical Material | Pamela Jordan & Dr. Sabine von Fischer

Overhearing History: Sound as Historical Material | Pamela Jordan & Dr. Sabine von Fischer

Dr. Sabine von Fischer is an architect, architectural critic, historian, and writer based in Zürich, Switzerland. Her research focuses on the interconnections of acoustics, sound, and architecture amid the technological advancements of the twentieth century. She has held research positions at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and ETH Zürich. She has lectured and published widely, including her recent book Das akustische Argument (“The acoustic argument”; Fischer, 2019; English translation is forthcoming). In the following interview, Pamela Jordan and Sabine von Fischer discuss recent interdisciplinary research projects, the challenges posed by considerations of sound in historic architecture, and the important role historians have to play in helping develop this understudied aspect of historic place.

PJ: Sabine, it is a pleasure to speak with you today. You have researched and written extensively about sound in architecture. How did sound and epistemologies of acoustics first enter your work?

SvF: I grew up in a musical family and enjoyed concerts, but when I studied architecture at ETH Zurich, I completely ignored the elective course in acoustics, as most of my classmates did. It was only later that I took the class, when I returned for my PhD in history and theory after practicing architecture for a number of years. It was a long detour before weaving acoustics into architecture, and I found upon arrival that there are many different ways of bringing these disciplines together. That also fascinated me. Acoustics is a discipline entangled with physics, psychology, neurology, communication, social studies, and many more fields besides architecture. In fact, one of the problems with the history of sound in architecture is the methodological challenge inherent in the multidisciplinarity of the subject. I think those who work professionally with acoustics have a very broad mind-set. And you cannot work with sound without acknowledging the complexity—that can be a wicked problem!

PJ: So you really identified sound as an interdisciplinary question from the start. Did any of your PhD advisers have experience with the history of sound?…


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