Researcher, photographer and urban explorer, Bradley L Garrett, joins us for a one-of-a-kind listening experiment to understand how a building’s soundscape changes and affects our sense of wellbeing. 

What impact does vertical architecture have on our sonic experience of the city? Is there a ‘sweet spot’ where we feel elevated, but not outside of the city? The Listening to the City at Rest project, taking place on Saturday 20th August, and a conjoined exhibition in Mile End in October 2016, explores the psychogeography of rest in London’s changing built environment.

London Rising next to Denning Point

London Rising next to Denning Point. Image by Bradley L Garrett.

Collaborators include sound artist Aino Tytti, who recently released an album based on the sonic environment of the abandoned Millennium Mills building in East London, yours truly, and Jen and Pigalle from Guerilla Science. The project is being supported by the Hubbub Group at the Wellcome Trust. Collectively, we are interested in the following questions: At what point do the more familiar sounds of the city fade away? How does the city sound at the top of the building? With less traffic and city noise, is the top of a building a restful space? What happens when we re-introduce these sounds? Who has access to quiet spaces in the city and what are the implications for the future of restful verticality in London?

Denning Point Reclad

Denning Point Reclad. Image by Bradley L Garrett.

Over the course of the night, we will turn out attention to the changing vertical skyline. London’s lavishly ornamented and embellished infrastructural heights were once the pride of the city and a potent symbol of its industrial prowess and are now being dismantled and disfigured. The new infrastructures that are taking their place occupy space as both advertisements for and the engines of political and economic power.

The Bubble from Denning Point

The Bubble from Denning Point. Image by Bradley L Garrett.

London also used to also take great pride in its social heights – places like The Monument, St Pauls Cathedral, the Barbican and the hundreds of housing blocks provided scenic metropolitan vistas to those lacking profligate wages. Those blocks, like our industrial heights, are now being torn asunder or reclad for a new urban elite. A new city is rising that now resembles, without a hint of irony, JG Ballard’s dystopian novel High Rise. Our field site, Denning Point, a high-rise residential building with 23 storeys, is at the epicentre of these tumultuous verticalities.  

Urban Transmissions from Denning Point

Urban Transmissions from Denning Point. Image by Bradley L Garrett.

The event is structured around a listening experiment. Participants will hear the sounds of the city at different levels of the building – initially at street level, and then at a number of points on the journey upward. At the rooftop, we will port the sound of street level up 23 floors, temporarily collapsing the vertical geography of the city through sound. During the journey to the top, there will be live readings that explore the fundamental role sound plays in our built environment and the sonic, social and psychological implications of our stretching city in the context of rest. The journey culminates in a rooftop discussion, and, if the weather continues apace, a beautiful sunset over the quiet horizon.