Voiceprint at Emerson College

Finalist 2019

A major feature of Emerson College’s new residence hall is its soaring three-story sculptural metal staircase—The Flytower—that hangs above the entry lobby. To absorb and soften sound reverberation there, Elkus Manfredi Architects created a 17-by-30-foot wall of eight acoustic panels that sit behind the staircase.

Realizing that these panels offered an opportunity for a mural and taking inspiration from the founding of the College as a school of oratory—to this day every student is required to complete study in speech and debate—designers created a visual representation of speech. Emerson President Lee Pelton is renowned as a speaker so the designers decided to create a contemporary art installation covering the north wall that would not only serve to buffer sound, but also be an interactive visual experience of one of the President’s most stirring messages: a fusion of communication and art that mixes old and new technologies to create something unexpected.

Designers ran the audio file of an especially powerful quote through a programming language called Python, which generated a voiceprint that represents frequency over time; the intensity of color represents the amplitude of a particular frequency at a particular point in time. Manipulating the code within Python allowed multiple color generations that could be adjusted to best fit the space. After the voiceprint was complete, the image was pixelated to emphasize that each crisp pixel represents a moment within the speech, and then printed to an acoustically transparent fabric wrapped around each acoustic panel. A small QR code was printed into the artwork; the code can be scanned and then the speech automatically begins to play on the student’s mobile device.

Design Firms: 

Elkus Manfredi Architects

Client: 

Emerson College

Project Area: 

510 sq ft

Open Date: 

August 2017

Project Budget: 

$45,000

Photo Credits: 

Peter Vanderwarker, Drea Plummer (photography)

Design Team: 

Drea Plummer (lead designer), Ross Cameron (project manager), Angela Chan (project architect)

Consultants: 

Jesse Kochis (programmer)

Fabricators: 

ICL Imaging (print, fabrication), Suffolk (general contractor)

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