Shea Trahan is an American Architect from Tulane University and the University of Louisiana. He has practiced architecture with firms in Lafayette, Dallas, and is currently in New Orleans in the USA. His work involves studying and exploring the intersection of Architecture and the sense of sound, and he believes that sensory architecture can help create spaces that will lead to Enlightenment. His work oscillates between Theory, Research, and Design involving 3-D modeling and on-site experimentation.
The TEDxVermillion Street talk that he presents his work and findings in is a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. In the discourse, Shea Trahan illustrates the influence of the built environment on sound and our emotional relation to the sound and space through a mix of live demonstrations and pre-recorded examples.
Shea Trahan starts the talk with a simple statement- his two “seemingly unrelated” passions- architecture, and sound. As he talks about his beliefs relating to the stated passions, it makes the audience wonder about the uncharted path that this architect is on. An atypical way to look at buildings and their effects on human senses is to look at sound.
Trahan states that sound is typically the sense that enjoys the most effect on the human brain, moving on to exhibit the effect of sound on the brain as compared to the other senses. A riveting way to explain his hypothesis, Trahan affirms the active response of the brain to various sounds through proven scientific studies and videos.
This hypothesis sets up Trahan’s powerful statement, “As architects, we design buildings that are de facto instruments”. The relation between sound and architecture as explained by Trahan is irrefutable, and scientists over the years have proven how certain frequencies can mold the brain and essentially create a meditative state for human beings.
However, this poses the question, “How can this sense of sound be harnessed skilfully in a built structure?” The adept speaker then explains his methods of translating sound into two-dimensional patterns and then three-dimensional spaces. Quite the exhilarating ride, the presentation also immerses the audience through live demos of certain frequencies of sound. These are in response to various places that the speaker had visited as part of his study.
The premise of “We are tasked with a very powerful tool for affecting human cognition” prompts Trahan to explain his drive for seeking out the buildings where unique sonic phenomena occur for spiritual or transcendental experiences. Expounding on the various scientific terms related to sound like Reverberation, Sympathetic vibration, and Resonance, he further explains how sound creates different sensory experiences in a structure. This information takes you back to the science in school, where these topics were a part of the curriculum. However, only now is their importance felt concerning day-to-day experiences.
Trahan is adept at explaining these concepts simply and through powerful examples, such that a lack of scientific background is not a hurdle in understanding them. The narration of his experiences at the temple (Hypogeum of Ħal Saflieni) in Malta is so descriptive that it makes the audience identify with the visit. Immersive experiences like a video of a vocalist in the Baptistery of St John in Pisa brought to life the reverberation and resonance of the hall.
This leads Trahan to relate his fascinating method of mapping out reverberation times and thus developing various patterns that different frequencies of sound make. Realizing the connection between sound and architecture requires a formal, distinct method to translate frequency values into a usable three-dimensional space. Thus Trahan goes on to exhibit how he came up with a system of designing spaces for various octaves. An exciting presentation, it shows how technology has helped advance Cymatic processes and experiments that were done hundreds of years ago.
Fascinating iterations of spaces are shown by Trahan, revealing the innumerable possibilities in the design of sonic spaces. However, with this revelation comes a pervasive question, “How will this interaction between design and sound be applied to modern construction?” Trahan answers this question creatively and efficiently, discussing various uses of sonic spaces. His examples prove the benefit of sensory architecture to its users and open up a new array of building categories.
Shea Trahan takes an unconventional approach to analyze architecture and induces a curiosity in his audience about Sensory Architecture and Sonic spaces in particular. His explanation of his findings is attested through proven scientific research that he presents in a simplified way.
The TEDTalk boosts imagination to design a new kind of spatial experience and also gives a peek into the architect’s design development process. It is a talk that leaves you marveling at the immense possibilities unveiled through research and design such as Trahan’s. The talk has left me optimistic about the astounding prospects that sensory architecture can create.
- TEDx Talks (2015), The Architecture of Sound, Shea Trahan. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-BMF4e-1bg [Accessed date: 28/03/2021].
- Shea Trahan (2017), Theory/Research. Available at: https://www.sheatrahan.com/project-1 [Accessed date: 28/03/2021].
- McKenna, Stacey (2017) Malta’s Hypogeum, One of the World’s Best Preserved Prehistoric Sites, Reopens to the Public, The Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/maltas-hypogeum-one-worlds-best-preserved-prehistoric-sites-reopens-public-180963397/ [Accessed date: 05/05/2021].